Spain is Pushed Backwards: The New “Gag Law” Against Civil Liberties

In the middle of December 2014: A crowd of citizens were gathered in the main square of the capital. They have muzzled themselves. They hold posters. They raise their voices. They are furious. They are angry. They are there to attend a funeral. Who is the deceased one? "We have attended the funeral of the freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate" posters read.

That day it was in Madrid, where a mock funeral in a civil rights demonstration took place. It was just one day before the new security anti-protest bill aiming at silencing socio-political movements and their coverage was voted by the Congress.

 The Citizen’s Security Law was approved with the backing of the ruling conservative Popular Party. It is dubbed as gag law (“Ley Mordaza”) and is massively criticized and opposed by 82% of Spanish citizens and human rights activists. Members of the opposed parties have even highlighted its association with the Tribunal of Public Order, the famous TOP of former dictator Francisco Franco.

 Protest? Forget about it!

The new law introduces a series of strict measures against civil liberties. Demonstrations outside of the Congress, at the gates of the Congress or at any other building that provide basic services to the community can incur a fine up to 30,000 euro. This can include from governmental buildings to hospitals. For the organisers of demonstrations, who are considered to disturb public order, the fine can be up to 600,000 euro. Peaceful meeting or assemblies in public spaces, peaceful disobedience to authorities will be subject to a fine between 600 up to 30,000 euro.

The same goes for photographing and recording police, or distributing such photos on social media while showing disrespect to anyone wearing uniform can cost 600 euro. Another important point of the legislation is the one about evictions. Preventing the authorities from carrying out one can result into a 30.000 euro fine for each person.

The long list of the legislation and its hefty fines makes it almost impossible for the citizens to express their dissatisfaction for the government or expose police brutality incidents. At the same time it expands the power of the authorities and legitimizes their control towards the Spanish public. Since the outburst of the ongoing crisis in 2008, many Spanish cities have hosted weekly protests with most of them ending up in a peaceful manner. According to the Minister of Interior Jorge Fernández Díaz, violence occurred during just 72 out of the 90,000 protests held over the last three years.

 Who talked about immigrants’ rights?

 Apart of the violation of the European law, gag law goes against the International law as well. A recent amendment added to the bill gives the right to Spanish authorities to immediately deport immigrants, without giving them opportunity for asylum. Spanish authorities will be able to instantly deport migrants who illegally enter Spain by crossing the border through Spain’s African cities Ceuta and Melilla. The immigrants will be given back to Moroccan police without being able to exercise their right of requesting asylum and legal support. Amnesty International supports that these expulsions are prohibited by 11 Spanish, European and international legal norms.

Raised voices

In the Congress the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) quoting a poll supported that 82% of the general public oppose the new legislation while a member of the party described the law as a “return to a police State”. They were not the only ones opposing strongly the legislation during the debate.

7 members of the left wing Izquierda Plural party wore gags before they were asked by the speaker of the Congress, Jesús Posada, to remove the offending items. Later on members of the Solfonica group- an important part of Spain’s protest movement- were expelled from the chamber because they started playing the soundtrack “Do You Hear The People Sing?” from the famous musical “Les Misérables” when the spokesman of the Popular Party, Conrado Escobar took the floor.

Human rights activists and organizations have strongly fought against the new legislation. Greenpeace members gagged the lions standing in the entrance of the parliament. Maria Serrano, Home Affairs Deputy at Amnesty International Spain told the news portal Sputnik that the law confers more power to the police, and decreases accountability in cases where there has been an abuse of power. She also said that the organization tries to influence senators to amend this law and to make it comply with international standards of human rights.

The gag law approved in a 181-141 vote by the Spain’s lower house of parliament, known as the Congress of Deputies. Now it is scheduled to go to the Spanish Senate the upcoming February. The ruling conservative Popular Party by holding an overwhelming majority in both Congress and the Senate is not worried about the final approval of the law aiming to silence all opposed voices across the country.

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