Berlin, February 23, 2022 – Spanish authorities should drop their criminal investigations into four journalists over their coverage of alleged police abuses, and should ensure that members of the press do not face criminal charges over their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On February 16, the Provincial Court of Madrid acquitted a police officer on charges of attacking freelance photojournalist Guillermo Martínez during a demonstration in 2021, and ruled that prosecutors should open a criminal investigation into Martínez and three other journalists for alleged false testimony, according to news reports and Martínez, who communicated with CPJ via email.
The three others—freelance photographers Fermín Grodira and Juan Carlos Mohr, and a journalist from the news website Público whose name was not disclosed—all acted as witnesses supporting Martínez during the trial, according to those sources.
If charged and convicted of giving false testimony, they could each face a fine and up to two years in prison, according to the Spanish criminal code.
“Spanish authorities should drop their investigations into photojournalists Guillermo Martínez, Fermín Grodira, Juan Carlos Mohr, and an unnamed Publico reporter, and ensure that members of the press do not face legal harassment for reporting on the police,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Rather than pursuing journalists who file complaints about alleged police abuse, authorities should ensure that investigations into police actions are fair and transparent.”
Martínez alleged that on April 7, 2021, during a demonstration by the far-right Vox party in Madrid, a riot police officer whose name was not disclosed requested his press accreditation and then, before he could take the document out of his wallet, grabbed his arm, hit him from behind with a baton, and threw him into the ground, according to Martínez and a report by Público.
During the trial, Martínez showed videos of the incident taken by the three other journalists, which were published in that Público report. He also showed the court a forensic report that showed bruising consistent with a baton attack, Martínez told CPJ.
In a November ruling that acquitted the police officer, which was upheld on February 16, a court stated that it could not determine whether an officer hit Martínez with a baton, and said the journalist fell and that an officer tried to help him up, according to Público. That court then recommended the four journalists be investigated over their testimony in the trial, which the Provincial Court of Madrid upheld in its ruling.
After the April 7 demonstration, at least five journalists alleged that police acted aggressively towards the press and hit several reporters as officers tried to contain the crowd, reports said.
Martínez said that the February 16 verdict could not be appealed, and while the Spanish Constitutional Court accepts complaints concerning such cases, he said that court “only accepts 1 per cent of the cases and take an average of six years [to issue a ruling],” so he would not file a complaint there.
In response to an email seeking comment, the Madrid Municipal Police said it would not comment on court decisions. CPJ emailed the Provincial Court of Madrid for comment, but did not receive any reply.