EU lawmakers raise concerns during Pegasus spyware hearing; journalists arrested and charged for covering climate action
Growing food prices
As with other European countries, Spain is deeply impacted by the crisis resulting from Russia’s war against Ukraine. Food prices are particularly highly impacted. On8th December 2022, it was reported that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said at a press conference that the government is considering containing food prices in an anti-crisis package to be approved before the end of the year.
Mail bombs sent to high-profile addresses
In a statement dated 1st December 2022, the interior ministry of Spain said that it had ordered the “National Police and the Civil Guard to take extreme measures to protect public administrations and buildings, especially with regard to controls on postal deliveries” after a series of explosive devices were sent to high-level addresses in Spain, including the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid and to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. The terrorists were seemingly pursuing an anti-Ukrainian agenda. The Spanish authorities have not yet identified who is behind the terrorist actions. Initial analysis suggests that the packages were sent from within Spain.
Supporters of the far-right party Vox demonstrate against Prime Minister
On 25th November 2022, Spanish MPs approved the reform of the criminal code on the first reading. The reform abolishes the crime of sedition. Approving the reform would open the door for a sentence reduction for the separatist leaders convicted under this charge. The political left believes that such a move could ease tensions in the region. The right-wing parties however believe that this modification of the criminal code will encourage further attempts to separate the Catalonia region from Spain.
In reaction to the reform of the penal code, the Vox party and its trade union ‘Solidarity’ called for a demonstration to demand the resignation of the government, under the slogan "Go away now!", referring to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. The objective was to demand early elections. On 27th November 2022, around 25, 000 supporters of the far-right party Vox demonstrated across Spain to protest against the Prime Minister's leftist government. In his speech, the leader of Vox, Santiago Abascal, described Sánchez as an “unscrupulous politician”. According to the Vox leader, Spain needs a party that embodies a patriotic revival and renewed national pride. The demonstration took place without incident.
Protests for the elimination of violence against women
On 25th November 2022, feminist movements organised marches in various parts of the country to mark the Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Thousands of people demonstrated on the streets of the main cities in Spain to raise their voices and denounce the violence suffered by women. The crowd shouted slogans such as “enough is enough”, “not an isolated fact, it is patriarchy” or “enough of unanswered aggressions”.
Some of the protestors demanded the resignation of Irene Montero, the Minister of Equality, who steered a new controversial law, known as the “only yes means yes” law, that came into force on 7th October 2022. According to the new law, unless clear consent is given, any sexual act qualifies as rape. However, the new law also reduced the minimum sentence for committing a sexual crime.
Protest against the privatisation of healthcare
On 13th November 2022, at least 200,000 people – 650,000 according to the organisers - took to the streets in Spain’s capital, Madrid, protesting against the privatisation of health care and restructuring of the primary care system. Madrid’s regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, of the populist-conservative People’s Party (PP) said that the critics do not know the reality and instead of trying to understand the real problems and negotiating, the organisers are trying to score a political point. Members of the medical profession are highly dissatisfied with the current developments. From 8th November 2022, emergency doctors were on strike for two weeks and from 21st November 2022 primary care physicians in Madrid announced an indefinite strike in the Madrid region, demanding to limit the number of adult patients seen a day to 31.
EU Parliament’s spyware investigation on Spain
As European lawmakers investigate the use of spyware in the European Union, Spain is proving to be the most difficult country to probe in the investigation. It is the largest country in the EU where the use of hacking tools by governments has triggered a major institutional crisis. At least 65 people have been victims of state surveillance, including Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles. In Spain, the Pegasus spyware scandal has been called ‘Catalangate’ as the majority of the people targeted by the spyware in Spain were from Catalonia and were involved in the campaign for the independence of Catalonia.
Before the European parliamentary hearing on Spain’s involvement in the Pegasus spyware scandal, a leak of the hearing’s programme raised some concerns. In fact, two speakers, Jose Javier Olivas and Gregorio Martin , who were invited to participate in the hearing, have both been linked to defamatory claims about the researchers and victims of the Pegasus scandal. Subsequently, Pegasus victims, experts and civil society actors sent a letter to European lawmakers to warn them about the “disinformation campaign to discredit the work of trusted organisations against spyware and to deflect the committee from its fact-finding mission”. Consequently, the PEGA committee withdrew Olivas’ name from the programme.
The hearing took place on 29th November 2022. On this occasion, the Coordinator of the Committee, Saskia Bricmont, emphasised “the absence of any judicial follow-up, lack of victim support, and lack of legal framework on the use of spyware in Spain”. Moreover, she added that “the Spanish government hasn’t given any useful information to work with”. In fact, the head of Spanish intelligence, Esperanza Casteleiro, refused to answer questions on Catalangate during the session, arguing that Spanish national legislation does not allow for them to reveal state secrets. In fact, she only explained the legal framework in which Spain's secret services operates and refused to answer questions raised by the members of the European Parliament.
Moreover, during the session, some of the victims were unable to speak out at the politicians. “In previous sessions regarding other countries, victims have had a crucial role,” said Diana Riba, Esquerra Republicana MEP, following the committee.
The draft report says that the abuse of spyware “undermines democracy and democratic institutions by stealth. It silences opposition and critics, eliminates scrutiny, and has a chilling effect on the free press and civil society. It further serves to manipulate elections”.
The special PEGA committee inquiry investigating the use of spyware in Europe has visited several countries where the spyware has been used, such as Hungary, Poland, Greece and Israel, where the company behind Pegasus is located. However, it has never organised a visit to Spain to investigate as the two main political groups of the European Parliament - the European People's Party and the Socialists & Democrats - block any such visit.
Sexist insults at the Chamber
On 23rd November 2022, Carla Toscano, a Vox deputy, called the Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, “liberator of rapists” referring to the new controversial law “only yes means yes”. The far right deputy added: “The only merit you have is to have studied in depth Pablo Iglesias”, in reference to her partner who was the founder of the party Podemos.
Toscano has previously made statements against feminists, including mocking the movement against sexual harassment by appearing on one occasion in the Chamber wearing a T-shirt with the legend: "Not me too".
After these words, the deputies in the hemicycle started to shout their discontent: “Freedom!” to which deputies of the Vox party replied “Freedom to insult” and “Resignation!” before they then returned from the opposing bench. The Vox party did not dissociate itself from the words of its deputy, cheered her on and several colleagues came to congratulate her.
After that, several politicians from different parties expressed their indignation and showed their support for Minister Irene Montero.
On 27th November 2022, during a demonstration by the supporters of Vox against Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Santiago Abascal, the leader of Vox, defended the sexist insults against the Minister of Equality with the argument that the only thing its party does is “telling the truth” and has assured that it will continue to do so.
Incidents against the media
On 18th October 2022, Catalan news outlet Directa received a threatening letter containing insults, including “Stop separa-rats”, “Antifascist, I f**king shit on you”, believed to be sent by the far-right. The outlet chose not to report the case as it believed that it was likely to be dismissed and also put its journalists at further risk. This is not the first time that the outlet had received threatening messages.
On 6th November 2022, journalist Joanna Giménez and a photojournalist were arrested as they attempted to cover a protest by environmental activists at the Prado Museum in Madrid. During the protests, the activists spray painted “1.5 degrees” on the wall of the art gallery and then glued themselves onto the frame of two oil paintings by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. The activists were detained by police. Additionally, police detained Giménez and the photojournalist overnight and charged them with property damage, damage to historical heritage and disturbance of public order. Police accused the journalists of participating in the protest, despite the fact that they were there to cover it. If found guilty, they could face between six months to three years in prison or a fine.
On 13th November 2022, several journalists including Álvaro Minguito, a photographer from El Salto; Javier Barbancho, who works for the AP agency and Reuters; Olmo Calvo, a photojournalist and contributor to elDiario.es; and Eduardo Parra, Europa Press photographer, were banned from accessing the Madrid City Council viewpoint to take pictures of a protest staged by healthcare workers (see above). According to journalists’ unions, the viewpoint (usually open to the public) was locked by the administration to undermine aerial photographic documentation of the size of the crowd.
Hoy ha pasado una cosa terrible, de la mano de los que se llenan la boca de la palabara LIBERTAD. No han dejado pasar las cámaras a los fotoperiodistas que querían hacer la foto aérea desde la terraza del Ayuntamiento de Madrid. Un poco de contexto---> https://t.co/XiwlZq4LPv— Edu Nividhia (@Edu_Nividhia) November 13, 2022
On 20th December 2022, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez refused to accept questions from reporters after giving a statement on the latest decision of the Constitutional Court to suspend the processing of the express reform of the Penal Code.
Civic Space Developments