When you think about a Spanish government punishing people for cracking dissenting jokes, the dark decades of General Franco’s dictatorship spring to mind. How tragic it is, then, that a Spanish citizen was sentenced to jail just last month for joking about the Franco era on Twitter.
The Guardian reports that Cassandra Vera, a 21-year-old student, was found guilty of glorifying terrorism by Spain’s highest criminal court. Vera’s crime? Poking fun at the 1973 assassination of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, General Franco’s right-hand man and then Spanish prime minister. Vera, a would-be teacher, was slapped with a year’s suspended jail sentence and a seven-year ban on working in the public sector – all for 13 tweets.
One tweet, dredged up from 2013, referred to Blanco’s death at the hands of car-bombing Basque separatists, who detonated a device so powerful his car flew 20 metres into the air. Vera tweeted that the separatist group ETA had ‘launched a policy against official cars combined with a space programme’. A later tweet read: ‘Kissinger gave Carrero Blanco a piece of the moon; ETA paid for the trip there.’
Thankfully, this case has provoked a huge backlash. Pablo Iglesias, leader of the left-wing Podemos party, said on Twitter: ‘Joking is not a crime and Spain is not a dictatorship.’ And even Blanco’s granddaughter has defended Vera. Lucia Carrero Blanco said: ‘I’m scared of a society in which freedom of expression, however regrettable it may be, can lead to jail sentences.’
Too right. Free speech is an indivisible liberty – it either exists for everyone, or for no one. If we let the state place limits on what we can and can’t say, what we can and can’t joke about, we risk sleepwalking into a censorious and joyless situation. Do we really want to live in a society where one dodgy tweet can get you hauled before a judge?