On 22 March demonstrators from across Spain converged on Madrid. The size of the protest was impressive. Many had walked to the capital in columns from different areas of the country as a reminder of the hardship being felt by so many Spaniards never-ending economic crisis. Ignored at first by Spain's media, coverage of the 'March of Dignity' has been overshadowed by violent clashes with riot police that broke up the closing stages of what had previously been an entirely peaceful day.
The ruling Partido Popular (PP) hated the way in which the previous government led by José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero permitted the 2011 camp to continue for several weeks, and the 15M indignados movement has been one of their targets since coming to power at the end of 2011. An ambitious PP politician, Cristina Cifuentes, was put in charge of security for the capital and has used the position as a political springboard. Two years ago it was relatively rare to see rubber bullets used on the streets of Madrid. As time passes the riot police seem increasingly paramilitary and the use of rubber bullets has become routine.
The government, unhappy at some judges' refusal to seek exemplary punishments for those detained in demonstrations, has now introduced draconian laws that will allow it to bypass the courts and impose huge fines (as high as €600,000) on those deemed by the police to have infringed the new legislation. In a country where direct political appointees are placed in senior police positions it is not hard to imagine how the new law will be used. The same law will restrict the right to publish images of riot police in action. Regional and municipal governments in Madrid (both controlled by the PP) are pushing for measures to restrict freedom to demonstrate including the confinement of protests to a dedicated area (manifestódromo). Spain's right may have reluctantly adapted to parliamentary democracy in the transition following Franco's death but in a party where few speak out of turn the authoritarian reflex remains deeply ingrained.
The Spanish government have just applied three laws widely criticized by the opposition and human rights groups were approved in Spanish Congress as per many Spanish medias (Eldiario / Xataka). The Penal Code, the new Anti-Terror Law and the Law on Citizen Safety. The three new texts challenge freedom of expression in the streets and on the Internet.
Under the new Citizen Safety Law or Ley Mordaza (Gag Law) as human rights defenders have renamed it, public protests, freedoms of speech and the press and documenting police abuses will become crimes punishable by heavy fines and/or jail. Some key points on the Ley Mordaza:
- Photographing or recording police – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Peaceful disobedience to authority – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Occupying banks as means of protest – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Not formalizing a protest – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- For carrying out assemblies or meetings in public spaces – 100 to 600€ fine.
- For impeding or stopping an eviction – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- For presence at an occupied space (not only social centers but also houses occupied by evicted families) – 100 to 600€ fine.
- Police black lists for protesters, activists and alternative press have been legalized.
- Meeting or gathering in front of Congress – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Appealing the fines in court requires the payment of judicial costs, whose amount depends on the fine.
- It allows random identity checks, allowing for racial profiling of immigrants and minorities.
- Police can now carry out raids at their discretion, without the need for “order” to have been disrupted.
- External bodily searches are also now allowed at police discretion.
- The government can prohibit any protest at will, if it feels “order” will be disrupted.
- Any ill-defined “critical infrastructure” is now considered a forbidden zone for public gatherings if it might affect their functioning.
- There are also fines for people who climb buildings and monuments without permission. (This has been a common method of protest from organizations like Greenpeace.)
The Gag Law will also affect internet freedoms as tweets calling for demonstrations or protests may be subject to penalties and fines for organizers. While an individual user may not be considered “an organizer” it could also be construed to include anyone who disseminates a call to protest through any media, including social media.
As the Ley Mordaza makes it illegal to publish photos of the police or other authorities without permission, sharing those images on social media could also be considered a felony resulting in a fine up to 30,000 euros.
Reform of the Penal Code (Código Penal)
Reforms to the Código Penal include some vague and controversial wording that could have wider implications involving copyright, cyberactivism and online porn. Below we will outline some of the points in question.
Copyright and Downloads
Reform of the Copyright Act was already approved but the new Penal Code reform also covers cases of copyright infringement imposing a penalty of six months to four years in prison for those who, among other things, “facilitate access or localization” of works that are being shared without permission of the owners with the intention of obtaining a direct or indirect financial gain.
Another controversial section refers to those who “intentionally store copies of works” to be aimed at public communication which is a crime. Article 270 mentions imprisonment for those who provide methods or systems to remove anti-copy protection of specific content.
The new Penal Code imposes imprisonment from six months to three years those who, for commercial purposes, manufacture, import, put into circulation, design, produce, adapt or perform to facilitate the removal or circumvention of any technical device that was used to protect computer programs or any other works.
Revenge Porn & Child Pornography
The new Penal Code imposes penalties for revenge porn and child pornography. Under Article 197 terms of incarceration for revenge porn range from three months to one year. Article 189 contains new wording regarding the definition of child pornography referring to any material whether real or simulated whose protagonist “seems to be a minor” except in cases where they are proven to have been eighteen years or older at the time of depiction. It also explains that “accessing a sexually explicit website containing content that appears to be a minor may be grounds for arrest and trial.”
Together with the Citizen Safety Act, the new Penal Code will also criminalize online activism and organizing imposing sentences between three months to one year to those who “emit slogans or messages”, “incite any offense of disorderly conduct,” incuding “disturbing the public peace.”
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, Partido Popular and PSOE reached an agreement to amend the criminal code on terrorism which was also approved yesterday in Congress. The law again contains some vague language which leaves room for interpretation.
The new law uses a broad definition of “terrorism”: Among other things, cybercrime is now considered a terrorist act if the goal is to disrupt and/or disturb the public peace or cause a state of terror. For example, an attack on a Ministry website will now be a terrorist attack.
Viewing web pages with content targeted for or deemed as “suitable for terrorists” in a habitual manner can carry a penalty of two to five years in prison, but the law does not specify what is “habitual” or which websites are being targeted.
By expanding the definition of terrorism, it also expands what can be considered “glorifying terrorism” which can include for example tweeting certain content.
Glorification and public justification of crimes under Articles 572-577 or those who participated in its execution or performance of acts involving disrepute, contempt or humiliation of victims of terrorist offenses or their families, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to three years and a fine of twelve to eighteen months.
Paying for technological services could now be considered collaborating with terrorists.
Shall be punished with imprisonment from five to ten years and fined eighteen to twenty four months which takes place, soliciting or facilitating any act of collaboration with the activities or purposes of an organization, group or terrorist element, or commit any of the offenses covered by this chapter. In particular acts of collaboration of information or surveillance of individuals, […] the provision of technology services, and any other equivalent form of cooperation or assistance to the activities of organizations or terrorist groups, groups or individuals for the preceding paragraph.
Blocking content: The judge may order any service provider (search engines, etc.) to remove links to illegal content related to terrorism.
If the facts were committed through services or content accessible through the Internet or electronic communications services, the judge or court may order the removal of content or illicit services. Alternatively, you can order the service providers to withdraw illegal content, the search engines to abolish links pointing to them and providers of electronic communications services to prevent access to illegal content or services provided if they fulfill the following assumptions: a) When the measure is proportionate to the gravity of the facts and relevant information and necessary to prevent its spread. b) When it exclusively or predominantly diffuses the contents to which are referred to in the previous paragraphs.
Essentially, Spanish citizens should throw their computers out the windows, smash their hard drives to bits and never log on to the internet ever again. Forget about public organizing and any press freedoms that previously existed will be sharply curtailed due to these new trifecta of insanely repressive laws.