CIVICUS

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Spain

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Last updated on 13.08.2018 at 11:25

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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Trade union leader arrested for insulting royals on social media

Trade union leader arrested for insulting royals on social media

In June 2018, the secretary general of a Spanish trade union was arrested for insulting the Crown on social media.

Expression

In early June 2018, the Secretary General of the Andalusian Workers Union (SAT), Óscar Reina was arrested or hate crimes and insulting the Crown on social media. Reina appeared in videos on social media "breaking and burning photographs of European leaders", and with comments alluding to, among other issues, performances by the State Security Forces last October in Catalonia. Reina, who also faces charges stemming from his involvement in the "symbolic" theft of food to distribute to poor people in 2012, has refused to appear before a magistrate on the charges against him and says he expects to arrested again at any moment.

In a separate ongoing investigation, a Spanish court is examining an alleged crime against religious feelings, an offense which can result in a prison sentence of between eight and twelve months. The case relates to a poster showing the Virgin of the Desamparados and the Virgin of Montserrat kissing each other. The poster was produced as a reaction to a speech made by the Archbishop of Valencia who defended the family against the "gay empire" during a Mass at the Catholic University. The case had earlier been brought before a separate court during which a mother and her son were implicated in creating the poster. That court however dismissed that case because, in its opinion, the image did not constitute a crime and had "undoubted satirical, critical and provocative sense in response to the statements about homosexuals made by the Archbishop of Valencia" (translated from Spanish). 

Positive developments

In late July, the Spanish National High Criminal Court acquitted six young people from “Straight Edge Madrid”, an anarchist vegan group, of an offence of encouragement of terrorism. The group had published messages on social media criticising Spanish state institutions. The Public Prosecutor's Office called for a two-year prison sentence. According to the court, the messages "were just a way to show their rebelliousness, not a direct or indirect attack against state institutions"; and "there is no record that shows that they did encourage any terrorist act".

Separately, the Provincial Court of Las Palmas has dismissed the complaint lodged by the Association of Christian Lawyers against Drag Sethlas, winner of the Drag Queen Gala of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria 2017. The complaint was to the effect that Sethlas' show was insulting to the Catholic religion. The Provincial Court found that the use of religious elements in the performance of a show, which was "transgressive", "exaggerated" and "daring", must be considered in context.

Finally, the Supreme Court has acquitted Octavio Cadello, who had been convicted by the National Court of the crime of glorifying terrorism and humiliating victims of terrorism. Cadello had posted "distasteful" comments on Facebook and a video on YouTube, which criticised the idea of naming a street after Miguel Ángel Blanco, a politician kidnapped and murdered by ETA in 1997.

Peaceful Assembly

The new Spanish government came into office two months ago with promises to repeal some of the most controversial laws of the Rajoy government, including the "Gag Law" which, as reported previously on the CIVICUS Monitor, restricts the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. As Lydia Vicente Márquez, executive director of Rights International Spain described the current situation and the expectations of the civil sector to CIVICUS Monitor:

“one of the main challenges and tasks of the new socialist government will be to unblock and move forward a number of key reforms that have been stalled in the past two years. One of these reforms will have to be the gag law. For the time being, the new government has been making promising statements, but we have not seen any concrete proposals or measures. It is about time to get moving.”

In a separate development, in early August 2018 a court in Lugo annulled sanctions imposed on local protesters who paralysed a project in 2014 that would have involved the cutting down of 150 trees and the destruction of several bridges. The local government opened 35 disciplinary proceedings against some of the activists who had participated in the protests with fines amounting to a total of 20,550 Euros. In its ruling, the court emphasised the spontaneous nature of the mobilisation in reaction to the threat posed by the development to the trees and bridges.

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.