Spain: Public Safety Bill or Threat to Civil Rights?

GreenPeace desplegó una pancarta inmensa en el edificio España con el lema NO a la #LeyAntiProtesta.

GreenPeace spread out a huge banner on the España building with the slogan “NO to the #AntiProtestLaw”

Various groups were quick to organize demonstrations against Spain's Protection of Public Safety Bill [es] a few days after Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz presented the draft bill. A new version of the bill could restrict basic civil rights, particularly affecting activists both online and on the streets.

This law will replace the Corcuera Law, passed by Felipe González's socialist government in 1992, which at the time was already known as the “kick down the door law” because it allowed security forces to enter and search a home without obtaining prior approval from a judge. It was later declared unconstitutional. Now the governing People's Party intends to compliment this law, despite having voted against it in 1992.

Joan Coscubiela, a representative from the Iniciativa per Catalunya – Verds (ICV) and spokesperson for Izquierda Plural, quipped that new version could be called the “kick in democracy's teeth law” [es] because it aims to start a “brutal attack on civil rights,” while the Izquierda Unida (United Left) parliamentary group commented that “the People's Party is trying to put the country under a totalitarian system.” Izquierda Unida (IU) MEP Willy Meyer spoke out before the European Commission about the fact that passing it would come as a violation to the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Although the government insists that the draft bill is just a draft [es], it appears to contain a series of measures against civil movements and any kind of dissent. It is expected that, due to societal pressure as well as that of other parliamentary groups and even judges, the draft will change in the coming days, before the final version is approved.

Many of those arrested during demonstrations (particularly since the economic crisis began) have not been convicted of criminal proceedings [es] because most of the judges hearing their cases have not found probable cause in police accusations. The new draft text considers the possibility of introducing offenses administratively. The 39 valid offenses will increase to 55, of which 21 are quite serious. The new law would involve “very serious” offenses (with fines between 30,001€ to 600,00€), “serious” offenses (between 1,001€ to 30,00€), and minor offenses (punishable by  100€ to 1,00€). These all fall well above penalties under the existing law.

Of all the new offenses included, the most problematic are:

  • It is against the law to participate in a demonstration before a state institution without sending prior notification to the relevant government office.
  • Those who call for demonstrations through the Internet, social networks, or another other means may also be penalized for having committed a very serious offense.
  • The circulation of riot images during demonstrations can also constitute a very serious offense, punishable by 600,000€.
  • Disobedience or resistance to authorities; refusing to identify oneself; and giving false or inaccurate information given to state security agents are all prohibited.
  • “Insulting, harassing, threatening, or coercing” members of the Security Forces will constitute a serious offense.
  • Circulating information on the Internet that is understood to be an attack on an individual's privacy or that of a person's family, or that contributes to disrupting an operation, will be punished equally with fines up to 600,000€.
  • Failure to provide a valid ID to the police upon request is prohibited.
  • Covering one's face with a hood, hat, or helmet will also result in a heavy fine and a serious offense if the subject is detained during a demonstration for violent behavior.
  • Violence against street furniture is prohibited.

Verbal offenses or insults, in written form or via advertising, against Spain, its Autonomous Communities, or its symbols or emblems, will be punished with imprisonment from seven to 12 months. (See hashtag #OfendeAEspaña (#OffendSpain) on Twitter as a response in protest of this new regulation.)

Amnesty International Spain has developed a campaign [es] and even a video denouncing the government's cuts to democracy:

Online action platform Avaaz has also launched a campaign [es] that has already collected over 100,000 signatures protesting the law.

As seen in this video, socialist parliament member Eduardo Madina says that if the bill passes, it will be appealed in the Constitutional Court. He even assures viewers that it will be repealed in the face of a possible change in the government in the next election. Meanwhile, the Interior Minister insults him and loses his temper:

One of the most active groups in the civil protests in Spain, the 15M, has seen a direct attack on the bill. Public reactions can be seen via hashtag #leyAnti15M (#Anti15Mbill).

GreenPeace also participated in the demonstration, which took place in Madrid two weeks ago, by hanging a large banner over the España building in Madrid with the slogan “NO to the #LeyAntiProtesta (#AntiProtestBill)”:

Concern remains that the commotion caused by the bill is diverting attention away from blatant cases of corruption [es] in the People's Party, where senior officials stand accused of violating the law, while others have already been jailed.

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