"I felt like at any moment there would be a knock at the door, I would open it, and the police would arrest me," recalls Kika. "I cried oceans."
And all because of a YouTube video?
Erika Nieto, known as Kika, is a Colombian girl-next-door-turned-social media star. She lives at home with her husband, with her cats and dogs. She's not a criminal, she doesn't kill, or steal, or embezzle. Yet there was an arrest warrant issued against her. She never thought she would have to live with that fear.
The twenty-eight-year-old is easily identified by her colorful hair, which apart from her natural brown, has been dyed every color of the rainbow: red, orange, blonde, green, blue, purple, all shades of pink and silver. Her fans appreciate her funny, charming, kind, and creative personality, and how openly she shares her Christian beliefs. On YouTube, you'll find videos about her testimony, her pro-life views and her marriage. But in 2018, sharing her beliefs landed her in hot water.
Responding to a viewer's question in an "Ask Me Anything" video titled "My most honest video yet", Kika shared her beliefs about marriage as between a man and a woman with her millions of followers: "I really hope that everyone who is watching this video knows that not all people have the same opinion and that's okay. I think that God made us all and created man and created woman for man to be with woman and woman to be with man and that's it. Whatever we have done after that as man with man and woman with woman, I think it's not right. However, I do have friends who are gay, I have friends who are lesbian, I love them with all my heart. And if I know one thing and I am completely sure of it, it is that God is love. And he calls me to love people. Without judging them."*
Kika's comments sparked a huge controversy in Colombia and resulted in activists accusing her of hatred and discrimination. They went as far as saying her statements were akin to murdering homosexuals. Kika bore the full brunt of cancel culture. But she is grateful to the people who attack her arguments and not her personally. Everyone has the right to say what they like and it's our duty to respect what they say. But it's also Kika's right to share her faith and her convictions. The problem is when people listen to an opinion that is different from theirs and react by trying to silence, or ridicule, or exaggerate it.
She lost followers and sponsors. Since these exaggerated and false allegations were damaging her reputation and livelihood, Kika reached out to the group of activists and asked them to rectify some of the false claims they had made about her. When they refused, she went to court to challenge these claims. The challenge went all the way up to the Constitutional Court. In the end, while the Court didn't order the activists to retract their comments, it did rule that Kika's statements on marriage are constitutionally protected under freedom of speech. Kika thought that was the end of the story, but the worst was yet to come.
In April 2020 Kika received an e-mail from a civil court. Another well-known Colombian activist had complained about the same clip claiming it "promoted hate and discrimination" and demanded that the court order Kika to remove it. The judge ruled in Kika's favor stating that "To claim that everything that causes controversy should be removed from digital platforms is already an alienation of humanity's freedom, as it would be to deprive all individuals who manifest their opinions of their legitimate right to express themselves freely."
Kika breathed a sigh of relief and decided to take a hiatus from social media after all that had transpired. But the activist appealed the court's ruling. This time, the judge ruled in his favour and ordered Kika to remove the video. The judge now argued that not all opinions may be voiced. "He compared my opinion with the genocide of over 11 million people during WWII, the armed conflict in Colombia and local and international police brutality," said Kika. The problem was that , because of her break from media and e-mails, that ruling went unnoticed by Kika. She was only notified digitally but didn't see the message until early August.
She was lying on her bed and saw an e-mail that said: 'Sanction for contempt of court'. Because Kika hadn't removed the video right away, the court was sanctioning her for non-compliance. It had issued a fine and an arrest warrant against her. "I can hardly put into words how I felt when I read that. I simply burst out crying inconsolably. I was in shock. My husband tried to calm me down. When I finally did, I called my lawyers."
ADF International's allied lawyers from the NGO Nueva Democracia helped Kika prepare a response, asking the judge not to sanction her. She took the video offline, but didn't delete it, since this ruling was contrary to the Constitutional Court's decision in the first case.
"It was an incredibly difficult time. The judge didn't respond for 20 days. But even in the middle of all this, God made sure I didn't feel alone." Her husband, sister and a friend were there for her and prayed. Finally, Kika received an e-mail that said they would not pursue any further action concerning the incident of non-compliance, since she had removed the video.
But the activist who had filed the case wasn't satisfied with the judgment. He asked the judge to order Kika to publicly apologize for her statements. In November of 2020 the court ruled in Kika's favour. The activist challenged this decision as well, but to no avail. In June 2021, the Colombian Constitutional Court decided to accept the case for review. Kika is now hoping it will definitively uphold her and everyone else's right to freely share opinions online.
Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that is coming under increasing fire in today's 'cancel culture'. Kika Nieto's case shows that the freedom to share what we believe must be properly protected. Kika is not the only one facing legal challenges for publicly expressing her beliefs about marriage on social media. In Finland, former Minister of the Interior and serving Member of Parliament, Päivi Räsänen, faces several criminal charges after having shared her beliefs on family and marriage in a tweet. The Finnish Prosecutor General suspects her of "ethnic agitation", a crime punishable with up to two years of imprisonment. ADF International is also supporting Räsänen in defending her right to freedom of speech.
Whether someone agrees or disagrees with certain views, censorship inevitably leads us all down a dangerous path. Censorship creates fear whereas freedom of speech fosters a vibrant civil society. We should all be able to listen to each other with open hearts and open minds. We should be allowed to think differently from one another, to change our opinions, or re-confirm the ones we already have. "I'm convinced that the way forward is to have conversations based on empathy, respect, and love," says Kika. And that is the freedom she is defending in court.
Sofia Hörder writes for the human rights organization ADF International. To find out more about ADF International's legal efforts to protect freedom of speech, visit https://adfinternational.org/