Spain’s top court exonerates woman who tweeted jokes about Franco’s PM

Cassandra Vera during her trial at Spain's national court in Madrid, Spain, on 22 March 2017. [EFE-EPA FILE/BALLESTEROS/POOL]

Spain’s supreme court exonerated on Thursday (1 March) a young woman sentenced in 2017 to a year in prison and seven years of complete disqualification for tweeting several jokes about a former prime minister assassinated in a 1973 bombing by Basque separatists.

Cassandra Vera was 18 at the time she wrote the first tweets making fun of the death of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who had been prime minister during the country’s military dictatorship.  She was found guilty of the crime of exalting terrorism by the national court, in a controversial ruling on 30 March 2017.

“While mocking a serious human tragedy is socially and even morally reprehensible, a penal sanction is disproportionate,” the supreme court said in its explanation for overturning the sentence.

Carrero was the right-hand man of fascist dictator Francisco Franco,  who ruled Spain with an iron fist between 1939-75, and was promoted to prime minister in June 1973.

Until then, Franco had held the titles of both prime minister and head of state, as the “Generalisimo” had concentrated all political power in his own hands after spearheading the military rebellion against the legitimate government of the Second Republic, which led to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

On Dec. 20, 1973, members of the Basque separatist terror organisation, ETA detonated an explosive charge as Carrero’s car passed through Claudio Coello Street in downtown Madrid.

The blast was so powerful that it sent the vehicle soaring onto the balcony of a nearby building, immediately killing Carrero, his driver and a police inspector who was also in the car.

In the almost five decades since the attack, recurring jokes about the manner of Carrero’s death have permeated Spanish popular culture.

Uncountable Spaniards are familiar with the characterisation of Carrero as Spain’s “first astronaut,” and comedians have endlessly lampooned the incident. 

But Vera was singled out by the judiciary after posting 12 tweets between 2013-15 which differed little from the prevalent detached attitude towards the assassination of a hard-line ultra-Catholic nationalist who had overseen the vast state repression against any perceived dissident of the regime.

“Kissinger gave Carrero a piece of the moon, while ETA paid his trip to it,” was one of the tweets, which referenced the meeting Carrero had with the United States’ secretary of state at the time, Henry Kissinger, shortly before the explosion.

“USSR vs SPAIN. USSR Yuri Gagarin VS SPAIN Carrero Blanco,” said another tweet, a reference to the Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human being to journey into outer space in 1961.

“Did Carrero Blanco also return to the future with his car? #BacktotheFuture,” was another of the examples the national court used as evidence that Vera was glorifying terrorism.

In its reversal of the national court’s decision, the supreme court said that Vera’s tweets did not incite violence, did not incite hatred against specific groups, did not justify the attack and did not encourage new attacks.

The tribunal added that the jokes did not constitute a humiliation for Carrero’s relatives, since they did not focus on the admiral’s personal or public circumstances, but rather mocked the way in which the attack took place.