Yesterday some friends posted a link to an article in the Norwegian left wing newspaper, Klassekampen. The article described a new law in Spain, where, in general, fines will be given if you have a demonstration criticizing the government. The law is apparently called “citizen safety act”, “citizen security act” or “public safety/security law” (depending on the translations). My initial response was a general “WTF?”, and I tried to find out more about this.
Apparently, there were some writings around this in end of November, beginning of December. According to the Guardian, this is not a new law, but the update is concerning the fines. Until this, it was up to the judges to decide what the fines should be. The fines are apparantly being suggested to be up to 600.000 Euros for serious offenses. A serious offense is for example a prohibition to demonstrate outside of Spanish government buildings, even if there is no parliament in session. One could not photograph the police either. A website I don’t know, which is called Spanish News Today, also states that it will also be a serious offence to wear hoods, caps, headscarves or masks while taking part in disturbances to avoid being identified by law and order. The article continues by stating that it is not illegal to wear masks or hoods etc., but only to be avoid being identified by law enforcers during the participating in disturbance.
According to Klassekampen, a minor offense is burning the Spanish flag, or insulting the government, which will be a fine of up to 30.000 Euro.
SpanishNewsToday also describes how the law tries to protect law enforcers, and makes using and distributing photographs that could compromise the officers’ safety is a serious offense and will be fined. The fact that you can be fined for taking pictures of the police have not stopped people on twitter posting, al Jazeera shows on Nov 19. Pictures showing police officers seemingly using people as something between a cattle and a punching bag.
Spain has seen practically weekly demonstrations since 2008, and the country also have a strong separatist movement in the Catalan separatist movement. A one of the offenses includes burning the flag, I for one see this as a big kick in the shin for this movement.
But what confuses me in all this, is that I am not sure if this bill has been passed or not? It appears to me that this is either a draft, or a suggestion which is being discussed…. Because I wonder how they, the Spanish government that is, is going to follow through this legislation? The fines are so out-of-context high, and in the middle of financial unrest, it is bound to be a strong pressure on the government. People are unhappy when things don’t work. If the government is going to fine everyone with a fine they are not able to pay, the debt will rise, and potentially prisons will soon be filled up. At the same time, this development has the taste of “democracy is OK, as long as you agree. When you disagree, it’s illegal”. Even though the leading political party, (PP – the Popular Party) is claiming this bill is for protecting the people, it is apparent that many Spanish people are afraid this will limit their freedom of speech.
But what about the bill? Nov 19, the Local, Spanish news in English, says the bill will soon be passed. But after this, I can’t find anything new in the news on this law. Some sites are stating the same as the other – that this is potentially a threat to freedom of speech, and the fines are too large for confort.
What happened to it? Was it passed? Is there at all any discussion about the human rights this law potentially crashes? Is it so that the only thing changed in this law is the size of the fines, and the offenses themselves have existed for a long time (except for the four additions – demonstration in front of government buildings, in front of nuclear stations, in front of airport, and aiming blinding lights to public transport – list from Guardian)?
I was scowled at when I said to my friend that I think I’ll sit back and wait and see. Is this bill so general in its wording that it prohibits people from documenting police abuse, and wearing hoods if the law enforcers claim you were part of a disturbance? If so – how will this go through the European court of Human Rights? And if this is indeed a bill specifically for giving judges guidelines for fines for attacking buildings etc, why is there the evident impression of many people in Spain (as seen in the al Jazeera article) and in some newspapers that the government is crushing all opposition by fines?
This case confuses me, and I hope I will learn more. Preferably before someone gets a fine.