Madrid: The line between youthful rebelliousness and something more dangerous is not always clear.
But in her angry musings on Twitter, Alba González Camacho, 21, who describes herself as a “very normal girl”, sailed across it. After she posted messages calling for a far-left terrorist organisation to return to arms and kill politicians, Spain’s national court convicted her of inciting terrorism using a social media network.
It was the first verdict of its kind involving tweets in Spain, and the case has touched on issues of where precisely the cultural, political and legal red lines lie in a country that not long ago lived under both the grip of Fascist dictatorship and the threat of leftist terrorism.
The case is also one of a recent handful that have pushed social media into courtrooms worldwide and raised issues of the limits of speech in the ether of the internet.
In January, two people received prison sentences in Britain for posting threatening messages against a prominent feminist campaigner. The same month, a federal judge in the United States sentenced a man to 16 months in prison for threatening on Twitter to kill President Barack Obama.
González Camacho, a student in southern Spain, says she is unaffiliated with any political organisation. But she had invoked a group known as the GRAPO, which killed more than 80 people, mostly in the late 1970s and 1980s, when Spain was returning to democracy after the lengthy Franco dictatorship. Although the GRAPO never officially disbanded, security officials here consider it to have long lost its operative capability.
The group’s dormancy did not matter to the judge, who accepted the prosecution’s argument, which said González Camacho had tweeted “messages with an ideological content that was highly radicalised and violent,” violating an article in the Spanish Constitution that prohibits any apology or glorification of terrorism.
One of the tweets called for the murder of the conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.
“I promise to tattoo myself with the face of the person who shoots Rajoy in the neck,” she wrote. Another singled out Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, the justice minister, comparing him to a Nazi.
Eduardo Serra, a former Spanish defence minister, said that while far-left groups like the GRAPO no longer presented any threat to Spanish society, “Terrorism is terrorism, and it just can’t be glorified.”
With no past criminal record, González Camacho was sentenced to one year in prison, but will avoid jail time under a plea bargain.
She is studying to become a social worker in Jaén, in southern Spain, and declined to sit for an interview, saying the case had brought her and her family enough trouble already. But in an email exchange, she said the intention of her tweets was to fight “a system in which a minority lives on the back of the death, misery and exploitation of a majority,” in a country where the euro crisis has sown widespread economic despair.
“The truth is that I’m a very normal girl, who has never landed herself in any kind of problem,” González Camacho said by email. "But if I tell you everything that I’m fed up with, I would never stop.
“I never imagined something like that could happen to me because you find a lot of nonsense on the Internet, including worse than mine,” she wrote about her conviction. “But it seems that here that the prosecution is only for those from one side - the Fascists can say whatever they want and nothing will ever happen to them.”
Her lawyer, Miguel Angel Gómez García, suggested that the case showed the “thin barrier” between freedom of expression and anti-terrorism rules, and that González Camacho had been made “a scapegoat to set an example for others and scare people.”
The case comes as the conservative Rajoy government is eyeing other restrictions on public protests, including the political use of the internet, having agreed in November to a controversial draft bill that would make it a criminal offence to use the internet to organise any violent protest action.
Esther Giménez-Salinas, a professor in the criminal law faculty of Esade, a Spanish university, said there had been few legal cases against apologies for Nazism by far-right groups. In terms of freedom of expression, she said, there is a problem “if only specific opinions are forbidden.”
Carlos Sáiz Díaz, who heads the criminal law practice of Gómez-Acebo & Pombo, a Spanish law firm, said the case showed that “the national court wants to send a message to society that from now on abuses will be punished if committed through social networks.”
The problem, he added, is that “legislators are always a step behind the new technology.”
“We’re moving on unclear ground,'' he said, ”which runs against the principle of legal certainty."
The New York Times