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


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.