How far should we go when it comes to keeping the peace? There is a fine line between freedom of speech and racism, between the right to protest and lawlessness. At what point does a peaceful demonstration become insupportable?
Spain’s new Public Security Law or Citizen’s safety law is causing some concern. It can be interpreted in two ways. On the one side it is an attempt to curb riots and prevent trouble in key flashpoint areas. On the other hand it is a concerted attempt to prevent freedom of speech and the right to protest in Spain. Of course, which side you come out will be influenced by whether you are in favour of the current ruling party or not.
What the new law entails
The law has been termed ‘Ley Mordaza or the ‘gag law’ by some. It still hasn’t quite got final approval and will be discussed next in the senate which is Spain’s upper house of Parliament.
- Fining the organisers of demonstrations without permission outside parliament and other key buildings – fines of up to 600,000€
- Fines for those preventing the eviction of people of up to 30,000€
- Fines of up to 30,000€ for using images of the police without authorisation
- Immediate deportation of those caught illegally entering Melilla and Ceuta Spanish territories
- Prohibiting the filming or photographing of police officers in certain situations
- Fines for showing ‘lack of respect’ to the police
Although Spain has seen a fair number of protests since 2008, the vast majority of them have been peaceful if occasionally embarrassing for those in power. The prohibition on demonstrations in front of public buildings is aimed at preventing another protest such as the attempts to encircle the Spanish Congress.
What the people think
The law has been heavily criticised by rights groups in Spain who consider it to be an attempt to silence those who oppose the current handling of the economic crisis. It is claimed that in fact only 18% of the Spanish population agree with the new law following a PSOE poll.
Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the attack on human rights as a result of the immediate deportation ruling. They claim that everyone has the right to seek asylum. They have also criticised the fine for using images of the police as this could be used as a deterrent to people wishing to publicise police brutality.
So angry are they that Amnesty International’s Spanish operation has denounced the law as threatening freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of information.
It’s important to note that although there was a majority vote to pass this law through the lower house, it only did so because of the vast majority held by the PP in Parliament, 181 votes to 141. Any law that the PP supports, by and large will see its way through. Opposition parties have said that they will scrap the new law if they are elected.
Greenpeace have strongly expressed their view by gagging the parliamentary lions and during the debate itself seven members of the Izquierda Plural group in Congress wore gags. The Solfónica group added to the spectacle with their rendition of ‘Do you hear the people sing? From ‘Les Misérables’.
By and large demonstrations take place peacefully in Spain and the Spanish are extremely protective of their right to freedom of speech.
There are those who are suspicious of the government’s motives as a general election approaches. Let’s hope their cynicism is unfounded.