CSO threatened with fine for migrant rescue operations; anti-LGBT groups win court cases

On 28th April 2019, Spain held its third general election in four years. The governing Socialist party won the election but fell short of a majority, while the nationalist party Vox that opposes unrestricted migration, rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons and what it calls "radical feminism", also won seats in the Parliament.

In the latest elections, the Vox party won 24 seats in the parliament in what is seen by observers as a turning point for the far-right movement in Spain. This is the first time that the far-right movement has won a significant number of seats in parliament since the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and the restoration of democracy.

However, as the main political parties failed to reach governing agreements by mid-July 2019, the chances of repeat elections in the autumn are increasing.

Expression

The stalemate due to the failure of political parties to form a government following the elections in April 2019, put on hold the revision of several important legislative acts, among them the controversial so-called Gag Law. CIVICUS Monitor previously reported on the need for revision of the Gag law for being harmful to the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly, and highlighted concerns of losing momentum for its reform by the repeated delay.

In the meantime, the ultraconservative Catholic pro-family group, HazteOir.org (Make Yourself Heard), has received a few favourable judgments by courts removing earlier fines imposed on the group by the local administration on charges of violating the LGBTQI laws [Law 3/2016 on Comprehensive Protection against LGBTQIfobia and Discrimination by Reason of Orientation and Sexual Identity in the Community of Madrid].

On 19th June 2019, the Administrative Law Court of Madrid ruled that the municipal government of Madrid has to pay back the 1,500 Euros they fined HazteOir.org in 2017 for the distribution of the booklet titled “Do you know what they want to teach your child at school? Sexual indoctrination laws” in 1,709 schools. The booklet criticised the LGBTQI regulations and was deemed to be offensive speech by the local authorities in 2017.

On 17th June 2019, the Administrative Law Court of Barcelona also ruled in favour of HazteOir.org and ordered the municipal government of Barcelona to pay the court costs incurred by HazteOir.org. The organisation was accused by the Barcelona authorities of spreading a message that invokes hatred and is offensive to LGBTQI people. HazteOir.org sent a bus through the major cities of Spain in 2017 spreading the message that “Boys have penises. Girls have vulvas. That’s what biology says.” The court found that this message does not violate the law as it "does not imply public rejection or obvious and explicit disregard of any person with regard to their sexuality."

As reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, ultra-Catholic civil society organisations and right-wing political parties have proactively taken steps to restrict freedom of expression. These groups have regularly challenged and stepped up their efforts to bring lawsuits against artists on charges of offending religious feelings.

Association

In June 2019, Spain’s Merchant Marine, a government directorate, sent a warning letter to the captain ofthe Spanish NGO Open Arms threatening to fine them up to 901,000 Euros for "violations against maritime safety or traffic management" if they continue with migrant rescue operations. The online Spanish newspaper Eldiario, which had access to the letter and published passages from it, reported that the letter specifically warned against conducting search and rescue operations unless approved by the authorities in charge of the search and rescue region. Open Arms has been conducting humanitarian rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and southern Europe and saving migrants and asylum seekers who attempt to reach Europe from drowning.

The threatening letter has been condemned by regional and international human rights organisations, such as the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and Human Rights Watch.

Peaceful Assembly

On 6th July 2019, hundreds of thousands of people joined the Gay Pride parade in Madrid under the message “not one step back” in protest against the far-right party Vox, which has been calling for rolling back LGBTQI rights.

During the Gay Pride, right-wing political parties were barred from joining, such as the right-wing Popular Party (PP) and centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) over their cooperation with the far-right and anti-LGBTQI rights Vox party.

However, senior members of the Ciudadanos party attempted to join the parade but were stopped by around 20 protesters who blocked their access to the rally and demanded they leave. The Ciudadanos group was escorted by police from the event and the group claimed later that they were physically assaulted at the Pride.

Contrary to these claims, a police investigation found no record of "physical aggression" against the Ciudadanos group by the participants at the Pride.