Women face jail for 'religious hate crime' over giant plastic vagina protest that 'mocked' the Easter procession

Three Spanish women who carried a giant plastic vagina through the streets of Seville as part of a feminist protest reminiscent of Easter processions may face jail after lawyers claimed the action constitutes a “religious hate crime”.

On May 1, 2014, the women took to the streets of the Spanish city wearing hoods and carrying the giant vagina mock-up on a plinth "in the style of the Virgin Mary," according to court papers. They are now facing charges of "crimes against religious sentiment", the court papers said.

The feminist group, which called themselves the "Sisterhood of the blessed rebellious vagina to the exploitation of precariousness" (Hermandad del Sagrado Coño Insumiso a la Explotación a la Precariedad), explained that they designed the protest to highlight issues of discrimination against women in the workplace.

The women were protesting during a march organised by the Spanish union the General Workers' Confederation (CGT) on national Workers’ Day.

The case will be heard by a Seville magistrate after a previous ruling in favour of the protesters was overturned on appeal by the Association of Christian lawyers (AEAC).

The AEAC said in a statement that the action was "vexatious". It claimed that the group shouted slogans such as "the Virgin Mary can abort too" and that it used prayers such as the Creed or the Hail Mary, replacing lines with "sexual, rude and abusive" expressions.

Pastora Filigrana, lawyer of one of the accused, said that according to the law it needs to be proved that there was an intention to offend behind the act. The trio have denied any such intention.

"The objective was to reclaim the right to a choice [to have an abortion] as well as to workers' rights. There were no insults to churchgoers nor was the action directed at the Church. There were no crosses."

In the original hearing a judge ruled that "not believing in the dogmas of a religion and manifesting it publicly falls under the freedom of expression".

But that ruling has been overturned on appeal after a judge found this week that there was evidence the group had deliberately set out to insult the "religious sentiments of Catholics" by making "a mockery of the Easter procession" using "rude and offences slogans", said magistrate Luis Gonzaga de Oro-Pulido.

According to the order, Europa Press reports, the court considers that the right to freedom of expression invoked by the accused "is not absolute, but has its limits on fundamental rights, including ideological and religious freedom."

"We accept criticism, and we believe it is necessary, but always as part of a dialogue, not in vexation, mockery or offence," said Poland Castellanos, president of the AEAC.

If found guilty of "religious hate crime" the women could face a fine and a prison sentence of up to 18 months, although in Spain a jail sentence of up to two years for a first offender is likely to be suspended.