22 Feb, 2023 @ 20:30
3 mins read

Minister in Spain laughs off accusations that government is ‘legalising bestiality’

Podemos leader Ione Belarra
LaPresse via ZUMA Press

SOCIAL RIGHTS Minister Ione Belarra has laughed off accusations that the Spanish government is ‘decriminalising bestiality’. 

The leader of the leftist Podemos party said during an interview with YouTuber Rubén Hood that she was ‘laughing so as not to cry, but the truth is that it’s a very serious issue’.

The hoax began to do the rounds last week after a story was published in online news site Libertad Digital claiming that the government’s new Animal Welfare Law would include ‘12- to 24-month prison sentences’ for anyone who killed a rat in their home, while at the same time changes to the Criminal Code would ‘decriminalise bestiality provided there was no harm to the animal in question’. 

‘The Animal Welfare Law has perhaps had the most psychedelic, mind-blowing hoaxes that we have seen during this parliamentary term,’ Belarra said during her interview. ‘Whether it’s that I’m going to ban parakeets, hamsters, this thing about bestiality, which is a total lie… I believe that this has a lot to do with the fact that we are making the right advances.’ 

The law was passed earlier this month by the government, which is a coalition of the Socialist Party and junior partner Unidas Podemos. It overhauls the treatment of animals in captivity, bans the sale of pets in shops, imposes new prison sentences on people who abuse animals, and turns zoos into wildlife recovery centres. 

The ‘bestiality’ claim has been widely shared on social media in the last week, and was even the basis of a question asked by a journalist in Congress. The reporter, from right-wing Estado de Alarma Televisión, questioned the spokesperson from the far-right Vox party Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros about the alleged change.

Far from clarifying that the story was ‘fake news’, Espinosa de los Monteros responded by saying he wondered ‘how you can get consent from animals to have sexual relations’, in a veiled reference to the government’s controversial new ‘only yes means yes’ sexual consent law, which has had the unforeseen effect of early release for some sex offenders.

‘You should ask Podemos if it has thought about how they are going to get the consent of animals, of the hens, with which they want to have sexual relations,’ he continued. 

The story has even made headlines abroad, after Poland’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, made reference to it on Twitter. ‘Leftism is the plague of the 21st century,’ he wrote. ‘The Spanish allowed children to change sex on demand. Now they are legalising bestiality.’

The truth of the matter has been unpicked by fact-checking website Newtral and online daily El Diario, and is a lot more complex than the hoax claims.

In fact, bestiality has never been a criminal offense in Spain, but rather is defined as ‘the sexual exploitation of animals’ – i.e. when someone is profiting economically from the act. The word ‘bestiality’ itself neither appears in the current Criminal Code nor in the new changes passed by the government. 

‘Now, instead of sexual exploitation [which is open to interpretation under the law], all sexual acts will be punishable,’ the Social Rights Ministry told El Diario. ‘In the case that there are injuries [to the animal] these will be considered criminal offences; in the rest – less serious offences – they will be considered abuse without visible signs of injury.’

Many of the hoax claims mix up the changes being made to the government to the existing Criminal Code and the Animal Welfare Law itself. It is the change to the Criminal Code – which has been approved by Congress and must still be passed by the Senate – that seeks to toughen the punishment for abuse of animals, including that of a sexual nature. 

This change swaps ‘sexual exploitation’ for ‘acts of a sexual nature’, according to the analysis by Newtral, as well as including the point that there must be proven injuries. 

Doubts still linger over the new text, however. Animal rights legal group INTERcids told Newtral that the term ‘exploitation’ could be interpreted by judges as applicable to activities for economic gain, ‘leaving aside dangerous and damaging acts with animals carried out in other contexts’. 

As with the sexual consent law, the true consequences of these legislative changes will not be seen until they are in force and reach the courts. 

‘Invented claims’

But in her interview with Rubén Hood, Minister Belarra was convinced that the Animal Welfare Law is backed by most Spaniards.

‘This is not about voting for one party or another, the majority of the people in Spain want to protect animals more and believe that it is outrageous that someone could burn a fox alive, record it and upload it to YouTube, and that this was decriminalised,’ she argued.

‘As all of this is backed by all of the parties, so the only thing that is left [for the far right] is to attack us and invent claims that aren’t in the law,’ she added.

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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