CIVICUS

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Spain

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Last updated on 21.12.2017 at 11:02

Spain-Overview

Civic freedoms are constitutionally protected in Spain, however new laws, including the Basic Law for the Protection of Public Security, undermine protest rights by imposing restrictions on where and when a gathering can take place, and imposing huge fines on the organisers of unauthorised gatherings at installations like nuclear power plants.

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Catalonia: tensions remain high as Madrid asserts control

Catalonia: tensions remain high as Madrid asserts control

Regional elections on 21st December are expected to be inconclusive, as tensions remain high with the central government in control.

Peaceful Assembly

As the Spanish government takes control of Catalonia - dissolving its parliament, announcing new elections and keeping separatist leaders behind bars - tensions in the region remain high with mass protests being held by both unionists and separatists over the past few weeks. On 29th October, hundreds of thousands marched through Barcelona in support of Catalonia remaining part of Spain. Two weeks later on 11th November, hundreds of thousands of independence supporters lined one of Barcelona’s main avenues to demand the release of separatist politicians from prison. In a show of solidarity, on 7th December 45,000 separatists marched through Brussels' European quarter.

In reaction to the escalating divisions, the Barcelona City Council approved a measure in November allowing authorities to deny permits for “far-right protests”. According to some unionists, this measure is meant to criminalise those who hold differing opinions. Regional elections are being held on 21st December, with most observers concluding that the new polls will not produce the "stability" sought by the central government. Writing for Open Democracy, commentator Patrice de Beer notes that, whatever the outcome, the Spanish government must not repeat its hardline approach towards pro-independence activists:

"It is time for the Spanish establishment to realise that their country, like any other democracy, can’t be maintained harmoniously only with a threat of the use of force and prison sentences".

Results of the election were not available at the time of writing. Check back here soon for the latest update on civic space in Catalonia, and Spain. 

Expression

Rights International Spain reported that on 4th December the Spanish National Court sentenced 12 rappers of the "La Insurgencia" collective to two years in prison for the crime of glorifying terrorism. The court concluded that the lyrics of La Insurgencia’s songs uploaded to YouTube glorify GRAPO, a terrorist organisation no longer in existence, and its members. The Court believes that such communications are not protected under the right to freedom of speech. Responding to the verdict, one member of the collective Ivan Leszno said:

“It does nothing but increase the list of prisoners who have been put behind bars for their ideas in Spain. The repression that has been raging and is taking place these days with the Catalans who demand a right as basic as voting, is the same repression that has been suffered by numerous groups, peoples, organizations, artists and activists since the Franco regime”.

The decision has been appealed at the Supreme Court.

Association

Freedom of association is guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Everyone has the right to freely form and join an organisation, however this right may be subject to restrictions if the organisation’s objectives are proscribed in any legislation as a crime or when any criminal means are used to pursue those objectives.

Freedom of association is guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Everyone has the right to freely form and join an organisation, however this right may be subject to restrictions if the organisation’s objectives are proscribed in any legislation as a crime or when any criminal means are used to pursue those objectives. Secret or paramilitary organisations are prohibited. Civil society organisations have the freedom to seek, receive, and use financial resources, including from foreign sources. In general, human rights defenders are able to operate freely and without harassment from the authorities. Sporadic attacks against do however sometimes occur. For example, in 2014, the office of the organisation ‘SOS Racismo Madrid’ had their building defaced with banners carrying xenophobic remarks.

Peaceful Assembly

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is enshrined in Article 21 of the Spanish Constitution which explicitly states that the exercise of this right does not require authorisation, but that the authorities should be notified in advance of assemblies taking place in public areas.

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is enshrined in Article 21 of the Spanish Constitution which explicitly states that the exercise of this right does not require authorisation, but that the authorities should be notified in advance of assemblies taking place in public areas. The Organic Act No. 9/1983, establish a prior notification period of 10 days, and 24-hour notification only in exceptional circumstances. However, the legislation does not explicitly allow spontaneous demonstrations. Other, more recent legal instruments unduly restrict the right. The Basic Law for the Protection of Public Security, which entered into force in March 2015, imposes time and place limitations and penalises spontaneous demonstrations. The law also introduces new offences and includes disproportionate penalties including fines of up to €600,000 for not declaring gatherings at facilities that provide basic community services. Previously, in 2013, the Ministry of the Interior issued a circular that restricts gatherings within 300 metres of the houses of public officials and politicians. Since 2011, the number of protests has substantially increased in Spain due to a declining economy and regressive social measures. During those protests, the media and civil society organisations reported cases where excessive force and arrests were used by the police to quell demonstrations. Allegations were also made that police had ill-treated protestors while they were in detention.

Expression

Freedom of expression is guaranteed in Section 20 of the Constitution, and generally respected in practice, however defamation and slander are criminal offences under the Spanish Penal Code. Media can operate freely, but there are an increasing number of reports of political interference in private media.

Freedom of expression is guaranteed in Section 20 of the Constitution, and generally respected in practice, however defamation and slander are criminal offences under the Spanish Penal Code. Media can operate freely, but there are an increasing number of reports of political interference in private media. Violence against journalists has occurred sporadically, while journalists covering protests have been detained, harassed and intimidated by security forces. In some cases security forces prevented journalists from taking pictures of the protests. The Basic Law for the Protection of Public Security also restricts the right to expression and information as it considers the unauthorised dissemination of images of police officers and state security bodies as a ‘serious offence’. In 2013, Spain enacted an access to information law. However, organisations have raised concerns as the process to request information is complicated, the law does not have an oversight body, and includes many broad exceptions.

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