This July, the first section of the Criminal Chamber of the National High Court cleared six youths belonging to anarchist group Straight Edge, who had been accused of glorification of terrorism on social media. The prosecution had called for two-year prison sentences.
Controversial charges and controversial detention
This case was one of the many based on the highly controversial crime of glorification of terrorism. However, the prosecution’s case was damaged by the fact that one of the defendants, Juan Manuel Bustamante Vergara (Nahuel), spent a year and four months in jail under the FIES regime (the most severe prison regime in Spain) before the trial, with a significant amount of time in solitary confinement.
He was transferred up to five times to different prisons in Spain, one of them more than 300 miles away from his family, in Madrid, and his defense team. None of the prisons he was held at observed his right to receive vegan food, even though the central prison supervision court itself recognizes this right.
The proceedings against Straight Edge Madrid began in 2015 with the anti-terrorist “Operation Ice”, which resulted in six people being arrested and their homes being searched. These individuals were charged with belonging to a criminal organization with terrorist aims, possession of explosives, and damage to property. These charges were maintained throughout the pre-trial phase by the police, the prosecution and the examining court, which upheld them in the indictment.
Prosecutors drop most charges but retain "glorification of terrorism"
However, once the pre-trial phase was over and all the evidence gathered during it had been examined, prosecutors decided to modify their criteria and, in a surprising prosecution report, abandoned the previous charges, which could have resulted in prison sentences of up to 35 years for each individual. The only charges they were able to make was “glorification of terrorism” on social networks. These charges were based on a series of messages and videos published on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube which showed images of urban riots and damaged banks, made appeals to boycott financial institutions, slogans against capitalism, and encouraged action against the establishment, in some cases resorting to low-intensity violence in the form of public riots whenever necessary.
Court rejects prosecutors' arguments
Prosecutors argued that those messages constituted “a glorification of violent subversion of the state’s political and social structures and of the struggle against all established powers by various terrorist groups with an anarchist nor insurrectionist profile both in Spain and abroad”. However, the court viewed the case differently.
None of the messages referred to any group considered a terrorist organisation nor to any individual convicted of any such act and this case established that “such deeds are not worthy of being considered glorification of terrorist activities”.
Two main ideas informed the sentence. On the one hand, it is not evident that the risk of committing terrorist acts was generated, even abstractly. On the other hand, it was concluded that manifesting rebellious stances does not in any way imply a direct or indirect attack against the state and its institutions.
Evidence not sufficient that the defendants planned terrorist acts or influenced others
According to the legal resolution, “we are before a group of persons who express their inconformity with the financial and social structures and who undertake demonstrations through online media, without sufficient proof to indicate their concrete participation in a violent act of a criminal nature, nor sufficient evidence that irrefutably demonstrates that they have influenced others to commit such acts”.
The judges of the first section of the National High Court concluded that the messages and videos published on Straight Edge Madrid’s social media networks contained neither an objective nor a subjective element of the crime of glorification of terrorism (Art. 578 of the Criminal Code), which means that being a “rebel”, at least in this case, is not synonymous with being a terrorist.
This article was originally published in Rights International Spain´s blog in September 2018.
Author: Eduardo Gómez-Cuadrado, La Red Jurídica