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.read more
On 11th September 2018 millions took to the streets in Barcelona during the annual Diada celebrations calling for Catalan independence and to demand the release of detained political prisoners.
On 11th September 2018 millions took to the streets of Barcelona during the annual Diada celebrations calling for Catalonian independence and to demand the release of detained political prisoners. The "National Day" demonstration is the first since the 2017 independence referendum, that caused a political crisis in Spain. The demonstration was conducted peacefully and no incidents of violence were reported. However, tensions remain high between separatists activists and those who opposed independence. Independence supporters covered public spaces with yellow ribbons, symbols demanding freedom for Catalan political leaders jailed last year, but anti-separatists were quick to remove them. Separatists claim they should be allow to campaign as part of their free speech rights, however, others argue that public spaces should remain neutral.
The disagreement between the two groups, led to some violence. It was reported that woman was punched in the face for removing yellow ribbons from a park fence. In addition, during an anti-separatist march protesting against this assault a Telemadrid TV cameraman was hit several times on the head.
On a separate development, Willy Toledo, a Spanish actor and political activist, was arrested in September after he ignored two summons to appear in court. The actor was brought before a judge after spending a night in custody and later released. The case came about because of a complaint filed against him by a Christian lawyers association, who claims that Toledo insulted their religion in a 2017 Facebook post. Article 525 of Criminal Code sets out monetary fines for "those who offend the feelings of the members of a religious confession by publicly disparaging their dogmas, beliefs, rites or ceremonies".
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, in recent years the use of provisions like “spreading hatred”, “insulting the monarchy”, “glorifying terrorism” and “offending religious sentiments” continue to be used to undermine freedom of expression in Spain. One of the most known cases is that of rapper Valtònyc (Josep Miquel Arenas) who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for his lyrics that praised terror groups and insulted the royal family as reported by the Monitor. The rapper subsequently fled the country. Most recently, on 17th September 2018 a court in Belgium refused to extradite him to Spain arguing that there is no equivalent in Belgian law for the crimes that the Spanish authorities prosecuted him for.
On a separate development, the Appeals Chamber of the National Court dismissed the appeal filed by rapper Pablo Hasel who was convicted to two years in prison for "glorifying terrorism". The Court however, reduced the prison sentence to 9 months as it considered that the rapper messages do not pose a "real risk" and therefore mitigating circumstances should have been taken into consideration. Similarly, the Appeals Chamber has reduced the jail term to 6 months for the musicians of La Insurgencia.
The Spanish government is currently considering reforming the criminal code to lower the penalties for “hate crimes” committed online.
Lydia Vicente Márquez, the executive director of Rights International Spain, an organisation that conducted an extensive campaign against the so called “gag law” – the one usually used by the authorities to curb freedom of expression in Spain, told the CIVICUS Monitor:
“Hate crimes were introduced in art. 510 of the Criminal Code in 2015. The definition is open and imprecise. Vaguely worded provisions leave wide discretionary powers, enabling excessively broad interpretations and are likely to lead to arbitrary use of power, which is against legal certainty. Broad and ambiguous provisions are incompatible with international standards for restrictions on freedom of expression. In such a way, this provision can interfere with legitimate expression. Restrictions on fundamental rights have to be legitimate, necessary and proportionate to achieving their aim."
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.
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.
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.