Of all the countries accused of ‘going against the fundamental values of democracy and freedom of speech’, you wouldn’t expect it to be Spain…
Odd, right? A relatively stable Western democracy being accused of repression, censorship and clamping down on the right to freedom of speech and expression. Claims you’d expect to be directed at countries such as China or North Korea rather than a member state of the EU.
The cause? The new Citizen Safety Bill, which has been nicknamed the ‘gagging law’ or ‘ley mordaza’ due to the heavy penalties it imposes on protesters. Penalties include fines of up to €600,000 for protesting outside public buildings as well as a number of smaller punishments for so-called minor offences – which range from insulting police officers to the more worrying ‘unauthorized use’ of images of law enforcement. This carries a fine of up to €30,000 and includes citizens and journalists taking photographs of the police without permission – which could makes it incredibly difficult to expose potential abuses of power.
The bargaining rights of trade unions have also been heavily curtailed, as the ‘gag law’ prohibits picketing and any disruption to essential services. Maria José Saura, from Spain’s CCOO union, said in an interview with the Equal Times
The Gag Law turns conflicts over labour into an issue of public order. With no room for unauthorised actions, what we’re left with is protest as a farce
Last time I investigated this, the law had been passed by the lower house of the Spanish parliament but had not yet been enacted. However, it was approved by the senate in March and as a result the law is now actively enforced by the Spanish authorities, making it increasingly difficult to speak out on the issue.
Demonstrations against the bill have been taking place despite the new restrictions on protest and mass gatherings. Opposition has included, in a somewhat ironic gesture, the world’s first ever political protest by Hologram (not prohibited under the law), which took place on April 10 in front of the Spanish parliament. The demonstration was organised by the No Somos Delito movement (translated: ‘we are not a crime’) , a group made up of around 100 different social movements and organisations. Two different holograms were used – one of crowds of protesters and the other showing representatives from No Somos Delito answering questions about the law. Carlos Escaño, a spokesman for the group – said of the protest in an interview with Slate Magazine that they wanted to start an international conversation about the issue through holograms. He added
The law is surreal—so surreal that it drove us to do something equally surreal.
Apart from the repression that the bill has been accused of implementing, critics have also accused Spain of stepping backward into the era of the country’s Francoist dictatorship, where any political movements contrary to those of the Fascist government were quelled.
Some have also accused the People’s Party, which is currently in government, of implementing the law in an attempt to reduce the popularity of the relatively new anti-austerity Podemos party, which was created in 2014 from the remnants of the Indignados popular movement against corruption and has rapidly become the third most popular political party in Spain in terms of numbers, gaining 5 seats at the last European Parliament Elections. However, some of the law’s supporters have said it is necessary in the face of increasing radical and extreme tendencies, both within the Spanish political sphere and further afield.
The way forward is unclear. It is obvious the law is unpopular with a large proportion of the Spanish electorate due to the protests that have taken place already, despite the law only being enforced since April – although, the majority the People’s Party holds in the Spanish parliament means any repeal of the law is unlikely. However, with the campaign against the ‘ley mordaza’ growing and reaching new heights both in terms of protest and the use of technology, it is clear the opposition to the bill is only going to intensify.