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HomeNumérosvol. 23, n°1Torture in Modern Spain

Torture in Modern Spain

The Construction of a Concept for Political Denunciation
Pedro Oliver Olmo
p. 91-112


This article explores how the notion of torture developed in Spain throughout the nineteeth century, becoming eventually a tool for denouncing state repression. It first considers torture in the early part of the century and the abolition of judicial torture and los apremios (any form of coercion used against an accused while in custody). It argues that the acceptance that legalised torture was inhumane helped to foreground another form of torture not yet named: government torture (the institutional violence used in spaces of detention and imprisonment to force detainees to confess and implicate others or as an additional punishment for prisoners). Hidden behind a variety of terms such as tormento, maltratamientos (mistreatment) and malos tratos (ill-treatment) it was not until after the formation of the liberal state that government torture came to acquire its modern meaning around the turn of the twentieth century.

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Full text document will be published online on September 2021.


First Stage: The End of Judicial Torture and of Prison “Tormentos”
Second Stage: The Gestation of the Concept of “Government Torture” in the nineteenth century
Stage Three: Torture as a Tool for Political Denunciation in the 1890s and 1900s
The Denunciation of Torture as Political Scandal: Cullera 1911

First lines

This article analyses how the modern notion of torture by the state (that is, the illegal infliction of pain by government agents, the police and within prisons) was constructed after legal, judicial torture was abolished in Spain, a process which spans the entire nineteenth century and culminates in the first decade of the twentieth. The starting point for this investigation involves a theoretical approach that links torture to institutional violence. This facilitates an understanding of its historicity and modernity which helps us grasp the historical construction of torture before it was defined and categorized as a crime. Before it became a tool for agitation and denunciation, a discourse capable of influencing the institutional agenda (government and judicial), the notion of torture had to be constructed out of experiences that gave it cultural and political significance. This study looks to a wide variety of sources (principally newspaper, judicial and legal), it uses speciali...

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Bibliographical reference

Pedro Oliver Olmo, « Torture in Modern Spain », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies, vol. 23, n°1 | 2019, 91-112.

Electronic reference

Pedro Oliver Olmo, « Torture in Modern Spain », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies [Online], vol. 23, n°1 | 2019, Online since 30 September 2021, connection on 29 November 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Pedro Oliver Olmo

Departamento de Historia
Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha

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© Droz

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