Sunday

24th Sep 2017

Spain's 'gag' law comes into force

  • In front of Spain's parliament - the law restricts demonstrations near the parliament, senate and regional parliaments (Photo: rusty426)

Spain's highly controversial anti-protest law came into effect this week amid criticism that it hands the government the "judge and jury" right to silence its critics.

The new law, approved by the governing right-wing Partido Popular led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, is seen as a threat to basic human rights such as the freedoms of expression and assembly.

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  • A group of people protesting in Barcelona (Photo: Jordi Boixareu)

The Citizens’ Security Law - also called the 'Gag Law' by its opponents - has been heavily criticised by opposition parties, judges, lawyers, NGOs, civil society and human rights experts from both the UN and the Council of Europe.

Only 7 percent of citizens support the law, according to a survey made by Metroscopia for Avaaz late last year.

The reform came after years of social unrest in Spain aggravated by the economic crisis, widespread political corruption and the failure to renew Spanish politics.

This led to a spike in demonstrations, protests, sit-ins, blocking of home evictions and gatherings in front of politicians' homes.

All opposition parties have already said they will void the law if they reach a majority in the Spanish general election later this year.

“The 'gag law' will last as long as the government of Rajoy. Once we are in the government it will be repealed”, said social democrat leader Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday (1 July) when the law came into force.

“We will continue, change cannot be silenced,” said Pablo Iglesias, leader of the leftist Podemos party.

Restrictions include demonstrating near the parliament, senate and regional parliaments, which could lead to fines of up to €600,000.

The police will also be able to fine people taking part in peaceful resistance or sit-ins in public places if a “relevant authority” has ordered the break-up of the gathering.

The new law also criminalises the blocking of home evictions - an activity that has become very common in Spain since the beginning of the economic crisis where many have lost their homes as they have lost their jobs and been unable to pay their mortgages.

The police will also be able to fine anyone “climbing buildings or monuments without authorisation when there is a clear risk of damage to persons or goods”.

The new law also goes beyond the streets and puts limits on what is allowed on social networks - one of the major channels for the social protest movement.

People writing on their twitter or facebook account that “there will be a demonstration today at Puerta del Sol at 7pm” can be held responsible for that same demonstration.

Minor offences will see penalities of €100 to €600, serious offences between €601 and €30,000, and very serious offences between €30,000 and €600,000.

Interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz Wednesday said that "with time, many of the doubts and criticisms will have no basis", adding that the regulation is to "preserve with more legal guarantees" the security of citizens.

But Judge Joaquim Bosch, spokesperson for Judges for Democracy, disagrees.

Judge and jury

“It is not a law for citizens’ security, but a law for the government to avoid citizens’ protests. All opinion polls indicate that the Spanish society is not at all preoccupied by security but by the economic situation and political corruption.”

The main problem with the law, he says, is that it wants to bypass legal courts taking decisions on behaviours that affect fundamental rights.

“The political power pretends to directly punish, through administrative bodies, certain incidents closely linked to the freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate.”

“This way the government converts itself into the judge and jury to silence the criticism of its management,” he continues.

Justice Bosch also takes issue with penal code reforms - which also entered into force on Wednesday - that introduce prison sentences for those who peacefully protest inside a bank or for those who diffuse content on social networks that could affect public order.

“Penalities have been toughened. This is unnecessary in a country that has the lowest levels in the number of crimes per capita in Europe,” he notes.

Quiet showdown in Barcelona

Thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets, in protest against the Spanish government's efforts to prevent the independence referendum. Both sides know that violence would go against their cause.

EU 'embarrassed' by Catalan 'taboo'

Faced with the growing tension between the Spanish and Catalan governments, the member states and EU institutions would prefer not to get involved.

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