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Student give a suspended sentence for joking about the death of the Spanish Prime Minister

Written by Samuel O'Toole on 20 April 2017

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We recently saw that there may not be copyright in a joke, be it a funny joke or a not so funny joke, as Michael Coyle explains here: http://www.lawdit.co.uk/reading-room/margerine. I will let you come to your own opinion as to the comedy factor of Michael’s joke.  

However, what we have recently seen is that a joke made in Spain can land the joke maker a sentence.  Cassandra Vera, a 21 year old student, has been handed suspended sentence for joking about the assassination of a Spanish prime minister in 1973.

In a series of Tweets over a number of months she made jokes relating to the death of the Prime minister. The Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s top criminal court, found that she had glorified terrorism and humiliated victims.

Naturally, the case has sparked concerns about freedom of expression in Spain and has split political parties. The in power conservative People’s party stated that it respected the court’s decision. Whereas, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the Podemos party and his coalition partner, Alberto Garźon of Izquierda Unida were on the defence and sided with Vera.

Vera has explained that “It was a joke – nothing more than that,” “I don’t regret doing it. It was just humour – and this kind of humour is very accepted in Spain so I don’t think I have anything to be sorry for.”

The law firm that represented Vera has vowed to appeal the sentence and would be prepared to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

This isn’t the first time that “jokes” have landed people in trouble in Spain. A couple of months ago, Spain’s Supreme Court handed out a prison sentence of a year to César Strawberry who joked in a series of Tweets about the giving the king a “cake bomb”.

In June, two puppeteers were sent to jail for five days for allegedly praising terrorism. The puppeteers insisted that their performance was satirical but this fell on deaf ears.

The UN has criticized the Spanish government; it has argued that Spain is cracking down on the rights of freedom of assembly and expression.

Associate director of the Europe and central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, Judith Sunderland, called Vera’s punishment “completely bonkers” and “incredibly punitive”.  She went on to explain that these kinds of rulings have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. 

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