Femen protestors met with violence by pro-Franco supporters in Madrid

Expression and Peaceful Assembly

On 18th November 2018 three members of the international collective Femen interrupted a march in Madrid held to commemorate the anniversary of General Francisco Franco’s death. The march was organised by the Asociación por la Derogación de la Memoria Histórica (Association to Revoke the Historical Memory Law). That law aims to recognise victims of the Civil War and condemn the Franco regime, and is now being used by the government to try to take dictator’s body out of his current resting place, which is frequently visited by supporters of the far-right in Spain.

The three activists ran through the aggressive crowd half-naked, with the slogan “legal fascism, national shame” written across their chests. A video of the incident broadcast by EuroNews showed Franco supporters kicking, beating, spitting and hurling verbal insults at the Femen protestors. Police intervened, wrestling Franco supporters to the ground and detaining the three Femen protestors. 

Earlier in November 2018 an artist was arrested after painting a dove and writing the word "freedom" on Franco’s tomb. The statement was signed by the artist Enrique Tenreiro, who said he wanted to make a statement on behalf of Franco's victims.

Legal reform process

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, in recent years the so called “gag law” has been used to undermine freedom of expression in Spain.

While the current Socialist Party administration seems to be willing to move ahead with a reform of the law, they also seem to want to keep key aspects of the law that they vehemently opposed while in opposition. For example, while they previously wanted to eliminate sanctions against people filming and sharing images of police officers, they now propose retaining such sanctions when the use of such images would endanger the success of a police operation.

In a letter addressed to the Presidents of the Congress and the Senate of Spain, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović welcomed the review of the 2015 law and called on the Parliament:

“to ensure that the review of the Law on Citizens' Safety eliminates all possibilities of disproportionate interference with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and results in a legal framework which better protects the exercise of these rights."

Patricia Goicoechea, the deputy director of Rights International Spain, an organisation that conducted an extensive campaign against the gag law and that is participating in the current reform process told the CIVICUS Monitor that reform of the Law on Public Safety

 “is a good opportunity for the legislative power to ensure compliance with international norms on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.”

In a separate development, discussions are taking place about reform of parts of Spain's Criminal Code.  These reforms relate to those parts of the Criminal Code that are regularly used to curtail freedom of expression, such as “insulting the crown” (Articles 193 and 491), “attacking state institutions” (Article 504), and “offending nationalist symbols and religious sentiment” (Article 525).