A 21-year-old college student in the Spanish university town of Murcia has been accused by a prosecutor from the Spanish National Court of "glorifying terrorism and humiliating victims of terrorism," according to German news website Deutsche Welle, after she tweeted a "joke about a dictator." The court is seeking a three-year prison sentence for her remarks.
Retweeted over 20,000 times, the joke and its blowback has gained the attention of notable human rights groups around the world, including the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as representatives register increasing concern over what is viewed as a decline of civil rights in the European country.
In a February report, Amnesty International observed that "unwarranted restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, information and assembly" increased significantly in 2016, and that "broad or ambiguous definitions that pave the way for a disproportionate or discretionary enforcement of the law by authorities" has threatened "to violate individuals' fundamental rights and freedoms," according to Deutsche Welle.
But representatives enforcing the new authoritarianism in Spain have targeted more than just jokes and tweets. Three prominent musical performers in the country known for their unapologetic political stances have been repeatedly arrested, sentenced and jailed over the past five years. Two street puppeteers plying their trade in Madrid were arrested in 2016 after a performance satirizing the local police. Authorities attempted to charge them with membership in an armed criminal gang, charges that were later dropped, but by then the damage had been done and the point had been made: don’t rock the boat, offer to kill migrants or ‘left-wing activists,’ and the current administration will leave you alone, according to one of the musicians.
Following the 2011 demonstrations in the country, Spanish authorities have sought to crack down on dissent and public protest. Controlled by the right-wing Partido Popular (People’s Party), the Spanish senate in 2015 approved a wide-ranging series of laws intended to limit freedom of assembly and protest and strictly regulating in what manner citizens can publicly voice discontent.