Do proposed reforms to Spain’s controversial ‘gag law’ go far enough?

The days of Spain’s controversial ‘gag law’ are numbered.

It was used to imprison rapper Pablo Hasél — for insulting the monarchy and praising terrorism — and allow the summary return of thousands of illegal immigrants.

the UN and the European court of human rights say that it infringes on fundamental human rights.

Ione Belarra, the leader of Spain’s Podemos party, called him “the greatest blow to civil and political freedoms” since the country’s return to democracy.

Now the Socialist-led government in Madrid wants to reform legislation introduced by its conservative predecessors seven years ago.

But the proposed reforms have galvanized protest on both sides of the divide, pitting police associations against human rights collectives, and right against left, further polarizing the country.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the “gag law”?

Spain’s 2015 public safety law was dubbed the “gag law” for its crackdown on free speech and the sweeping powers it gave police at a time when the conservative People’s Party was grappling with social unrest in the form of anti-austerity protests.

It has become illegal to take and distribute images of police officers engaged in law enforcement while spontaneous protests and demonstrations near a convention or government building have been fined up to €600,000.

Disrespecting or showing disobedience to police has become the most punished offense in Spain, with a million fines (70% of the total) imposed on these grounds last year.

“Disobedience and disrespect are the offenses most exploited by the police because they are completely ambiguous and allow great flexibility,” the spokeswoman and lawyer for human rights platform No Somos told Euronews. Delito, Sara Lopez Martin.

When asked if these articles of law were susceptible to abuse, the spokesman for the Justice for the Civil Guard police association JUCIL, Augustín Leal, was adamant.

“No, man, no! he told Euronews. “To be construed as disrespectful, you would have to call me a son of a bitch.”

However, citizens were found to be disrespectful for a range of perceived offences, from smirking at a police officer to calling him a “friend” to politely disagreeing.

“It’s not even about insulting,” López retorts. “Any disagreement with a police officer can be interpreted as a lack of respect. Disagreements are expensive in this country.

What “gag law” reforms are on the table?

If the current proposals become law, spontaneous demonstrations will be permitted as long as they are in the public interest, and demonstrations in front of Congress and government buildings will be permitted.

Images may be taken and broadcast as long as they do not endanger members of the security forces.

The police who come to pick someone up to identify them must bring them back to their place of origin within two hours instead of six. And the fines will be proportional to income.

There are 300 proposed amendments to the law, 90% of which have been approved, although the police, the conservative People’s Party and the far-right Vox party are fiercely opposed to the reforms.

“No one consulted us on these reforms,” says Leal. “And we are the ones on the front lines – the professionals.

“The law works as is. The public is not asking for change.

” Who ask for it ? separatist parties. Bildu, the party of ETA terrorists. The reforms bring these parties closer to destroying the rule of law.

Why are reforms not enough for some activists?

No Somos Delito, an umbrella platform bringing together 100 different collectives pushing for the abolition of the “gag law”, points out that the proposals have still not addressed key issues.

The arbitrary nature of the notions of “lack of respect” and “disobedience” has not yet been addressed. No more than the presumption of credibility, which gives more weight to the word of the police than to that of a civilian.

“Under the proposed reforms, the police could tell a journalist that they cannot take photos. The journalist could insist that he can, in which case the police can fine him for disobedience,” Amnesty International spokesman Carlos Escaño told Euronews. “And who can say whether a spontaneous demonstration is in the public interest or not? The police. What we are asking for is a mechanism to control police abuse, which currently does not exist.

Rubber bullets have been banned in Catalonia since a woman lost her eye in 2014 during a protest in favor of rapper Pablo Hasél, but the use of such riot gear has yet to be addressed nationally.

One of the most controversial articles of the “gag law” – the summary return of illegal immigrants – is being pushed aside to be dealt with under immigration law.

“What the government is doing in this case,” López says, “is avoiding the question for fear of the answer from the far right.”

López argues that the 150,000-strong protests organized in November by members of the security forces centered on the proposed requirement that their actions be consistent, logical and reasonable, which “is quite indicative of the current mentality of the police” .

What is holding back government ambition?

“It probably has to do with the rise of Vox and the ultra-right in Spain,” says López. “That’s what the government is telling us – that there are reforms it cannot undertake because the far right has a lot of public support and they are also under pressure from the police unions.”

López adds that the response to the rise of the far right cannot be to limit freedoms.

“If we respond by depriving citizens of their fundamental rights, we are playing their game,” she told Euronews.

What is the police angle?

“They want to ban the use of rubber bullets as we use rubber bullets to defend ourselves against violent protesters,” says Leal. “We never use them against peaceful protesters.”

Leal adds that spontaneous demonstrations are not acceptable because, to ensure public safety, the police need time to prepare.

And he rails against the fact that the word of the police must have the same weight as that of an offender.

“There are separatist parties that are proposing reforms that would mean a policeman would lose his authority status in court; that our word would not have probative value in front of a judge,” he said.

Leal is also furious that police are asked to justify detentions or spot checks with consistency, logic and reason.

“It’s already happening,” he says. “I have to document everything. I can’t do what I love. I would be sent to prison.

According to Leal, the law does not need reform and is only being revised because the socialist government is relying on separatist parties to keep it in power.

“It’s about trading public safety for quotas of power,” he says. “It is not in the interest of the citizen.”

He adds that the proposed reforms will usher in anarchy.

“It is made to attack the rule of law,” he says. “To help squatters and anti-systems, violent individuals and collectives. We could end up with communism.

Swords drawn

According to Leal, the police association JUCIL produced a report “detailing how the amendments are unconstitutional, illegal and infringe on individual freedoms” in a bid to fight the proposed reforms in court.

Meanwhile, No Somos un Delito has planned a nationwide protest on February 13 to push for more ambitious proposals two days before a return to the table to hammer out the proposals at the government’s interior committee meeting on February 15.

MPs are then expected to debate and vote on the reform proposals, although no date has been set at the time of publication.

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