Gag Law reform stalled as civil society calls on government to "uphold freedom of expression"

Expression

Gag law reform process stalled

Lydia Vicente Márquez, executive director of Rights International Spain, told the CIVICUS Monitor that the reform of the so-called 'gag law' has been stalled in Congress. The Basque nationalist parliamentary group and the socialist parliamentary group had each filed an amendment to modify the law. However, according to Vicente:

“neither of these bills implied the derogation of the Gag law or a meaningful reform in line with recommendations from civil society groups. Amendments to the bills were submitted by the rest of parliamentary groups in February and since then, nothing has moved forward. RIS considers there is no political will. We hope that the new government will honor its promise to uphold freedom of expression”.
Singers still in the firing line

Two recent court cases highlight the Spanish state's attempts to censor musicians because of statements they made and lyrics in their music. In May, Spanish police filed a complaint against singer Evaristo Páramos for shouting “police, sons of bitches” after his performance at a music festival. The singer now faces a fine of 540 EUR. In a separate case, the Constitutional Court rejected an appeal by rapper Valtonyc against his three-and-a-half year prison sentence. Valtonyc was sentenced to prison for lyrics that praised terror groups and insulted the royal family. The rapper subsequently fled the country.

Positive developments

There have been some positive developments in the protection of freedom of speech in recent weeks. The Office of the Prosecutor decided to withdraw charges of glorifying terrorism made against a young person who was arrested and detained in March for messages that he had published on Twitter between 2012 and 2016. The Office concluded that the individual's behaviour on Twitter did not facilitate or encourage, even indirectly, a situation that would put people at risk and rights under threat.

In addition, the Criminal Chamber of the National Court revoked a 7,200 EUR fine for an offence deemed insulting of the monarch, namely an incident of booing during the national anthem and whistling at the Spanish King during a football match in 2015. According to the Court, although the booing was a reprehensible act, it should not be punishable by law. 

In another case, the National Court applied European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case law in a complaint filed by the police against a young woman who burned photos of the king to celebrate an ECHR ruling that recently determined that such an act is considered a free exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

Association

Publico reported that the Spanish authorities have revoked the public utility status of a number of NGOs that play an important role in addressing social issues in Spain. The authorities cited administrative reasons for their decision to revoke the NGOs' status. At the same time, however, some ultra-conservative, religious and anti-abortion organisations have reportedly been granted public utility status. Publico has suggested that there may be some deferential treatment of organisations based on affiliation or ideology.