Belgian courts again reject Valtònyc's extradition: "I want to start living"
Majorcan rapper leaves visibly moved the Court of Appeal of Ghent, which rejects for the second time to deliver it to Spain
GantThe Majorcan rapper Valtònyc was happy and also emotional as he left Ghent's Court of Appeal of Ghent this Tuesday after a very short hearing. The Belgian court again rejected his extradition to Spain, as the Spanish High Court has demanded for the last four years. The court had to examine his case for the second time, after the Brussels Court of Cassation upheld in part the appeal by the Spanish Prosecutor's Office. And that is why Valtònyc had to stand trial again in Ghent, this time by a different set of judges. The court only heard the case for insults against the Crown. Being a reconfirmation of a previous sentence, everything indicates it should be final. Nevertheless, the Belgian Prosecutor's Office can still appeal again in cassation, and that is why the musician has struggled to hold back tears during his statements to the press.
"I arrived here when I was 24 years old, now I am 28. I have gone through the first judicial instance, through appeal, through cassation, through the Court of Justice of the European Union, through the European Court of Human Rights, and I have never felt alone," recalled Josep Miquel Arenas, alias Valtònyc, at the gates of the court, before explaining that today was a "tough" day because he did not know what could happen. From now on, he said, he is eager to "start living", after a complicated journey through the courts during which he confessed he was scared of being forgotten: "The greatest fear of an exile is to be forgotten", he said, before thanking his team of lawyers and claiming he will continue "political militancy" so no other citizen of the Spanish state suffers what he has suffered. "[But] I also want to live," he added.
However, there is still the possibility that the Belgian public prosecutor's office, in coordination with Spanish prosecutors, will file a final appeal in cassation. It has a period of 24 hours to do so, although sources of the defence believe that it is unlikely to go ahead. As there has already been a retrial, the most likely outcome would seem a confirmation of the Ghent court's verdict. Even so, it is not until tomorrow that we will find out whether this is truly the end of this case.
End of court battle
Valtònyc went into exile in Belgium in 2018 and since then has experienced a convoluted judicial process to avoid extradition to Spain to serve prison sentences the Spanish justice system imposed on him for the crimes of glorification of terrorism, insults to the Crown and threats, allegedly contained in the lyrics of his songs. After a first request for extradition was denied, the case reached Ghent's Court of Appeal, which studied it in depth to the point of submitting a preliminary question to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and another to the Belgium's Constitutional Court.
The judge in Ghent asked the CJEU whether it could accept quick extradition for glorification of terrorism taking into account that Spain had issued the European arrest warrant for the rapper's extradition based on a reform of the Penal Code approved after Valtònyc allegedly committed the crime. In another order he also asked the country's Constitutional Court whether in Belgium the accusations for which Valtònyc was convicted of insulting the Crown were protected by freedom of expression.
The Constitutional Court ended up overturning the crime in Belgium. This is the point at which the judge at Brussels's Court of Cassation asked for a retrial, partly upholding the appeal by the Prosecutor's Office taking into account articles 275-277 of the Belgian Penal Code, which punish insults against public officials and constitutional figures with penalties of up to one month in prison. "Not even taking into account this hypothesis does the Ghent judge consider that Valtònyc's songs care a crime in Belgium," the rapper's lawyer, Simon Bekaert, explained after the hearing. For that reason, the exile's defence is quite confident that, even if there is an appeal, Valtònyc will not be extradited and will be able to live as a free citizen in Belgium.
However, until the statute of limitations expires for his offences expires, he will not be able to return to Spain. If he travels to any other country, he will run the risk of starting an extradition process again. Sources of the defence explain that the Belgian sentence can be taken into account by any other court, but it is not a guarantee that he will not be extradited, and even less so taking into account the diplomatic efforts that the Spanish State may make.