CIVICUS

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Last updated on 27.04.2018 at 09:24

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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Civil society remains concerned over chilling effect of gag law on free speech

Civil society remains concerned over chilling effect of gag law on free speech

As reported previously on the CIVICUS Monitor, the "gag law" passed three years ago has sparked protests and criticism, especially because of the law's potential to restrict free speech.

Expression

Article 578 of the Spanish penal code has been widely criticised both by international and Spanish human rights defenders because of the law's potential to restrict free speech. Amnesty International's 2017/2018 annual report says:

“In many instances, authorities pressed criminal charges against people who had expressed opinions that did not constitute incitement to a terrorism-related offence and fell within the permissible forms of expression under international human rights law".

In one case that exemplifies Amnesty's analysis, student Cassandra Vera was banned from obtaining public-sector work for seven years and given a suspended sentence of one year's imprisonment for tweeting jokes about the 1973 assassination of a Spanish prime minister.


Spain’s supreme court overturned the national court’s decision and quashed Vera’s conviction. Lydia Vicente Márquez, the executive director of Rights International Spain (RIS), told the CIVICUS Monitor about two other court decisions in which Twitter users charged with glorifying terrorism were acquitted because the court concluded that their actions did not promote a situation of real danger. RIS and other NGOs welcomed an initiative from Izquierda Unida, a minority left-wing parliamentary group, to file a draft bill in Congress to derogate a number of offences in the law which, according to civil society, curtail freedom of expression.

In a separate development, two Catalan separatists were sentenced on defamation charges for burning a large, upside-down portrait of the royal couple at a march. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, however, found that burning that photograph should be viewed as political criticism of the monarcchy and thus such an act is protected under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Spanish constitution.

Peaceful Assembly

On 8th March, reports estimate that five million people participated in Spain’s first nationwide “feminist strike”. The strike sought to shed light on sexual discrimination, domestic violence and the wage gap in Spanish society. According to a recent Spanish study, on average female employees are paid 12.7 percent less for doing the same job as their male colleagues.The action was supported by some of Spain’s best-known female politicians, including Manuela Carmena, mayor of Madrid, and Ada Colau, mayor of Barcelona.

The strike was mostly peaceful, though the police were called in to stop participants from cutting off central thoroughfares in Barcelona, where picketing groups managed to temporarily bring key parts of the city to a standstill.

Gag law turns three

Spain's infamous “gag law”, which seriously restricts freedom of assembly in Spain, by, for example, imposing fines in case of spontaneous peaceful protests has just turned three years old. Citizens celebrated the occasion by holding a protest against the law.


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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