Spanish Government Strips Away Protesting Rights

2014.12.23.Spain.mainSign: “This is not democracy, it is a dictatorship” – Protest in Madrid, Spain. (Photo: Marta Breijo / Flickr)

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What’s a government to do when the people take to the street to protest the way the country is being run? A sensible government would change policies to appease the people it is committed to serving. Alternately, a government could take Spain’s current approach, which is to start fining and arresting people for protesting in the first place. Yes, that will solve the problem!

Spain is showing signs of fascism with its new anti-protest legislation nicknamed the “Gag Law.” This past week, Spain’s lower parliament okayed the law, pushing it much closer to reality. Among the restrictions cemented by the law, punishable by a $700-37,000 fine:

  • Holding a protest without obtaining a permit from the government first.
  • Protesting the day before an election.
  • Insulting a police officer.
  • Burning a flag.
  • Photographing/filming police officers and sharing said photos/videos.
  • Protesting at a bank.
  • Blocking a home foreclosure
  • Assembling near a legislative building
  • Wearing hoods or masks, as they prevent authorities from identifying you.

That’s not all. Even peaceful protests can be shut down if police fear that the protest could at some point “turn disorderly” (left to the police’s discretion, obviously.) Oh, and don’t even think about appealing these fines in court. People who appeal these fines will be made to pay the court costs.

A quarter of Spain’s population is unemployed, with half of the nation’s young adults lacking a job. By upping the financial repercussions for protesting, the government knows it can scare away people who can’t afford to pay these tickets.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has pretended that this law is meant to “protect” the citizens. “One of the obligations of the government is to guarantee the liberty and security of all of its citizens,” Rajoy said, despite actually taking active steps to strip Spaniards of their liberties.

The good news is that the people of Spain aren’t taking the news in stride. This past week, tens of thousands of people in more than 30 cities gathered to speak out against this attack on free speech rights. They might as well take advantage of their ability to protest before it’s made illegal, eh?

If all of this sounds familiar to Americans activists, that’s because there are plenty of similarities. The United States might not technically have all of these laws on the books, but that hasn’t stopped the police from trying to enforce comparable laws. American police are known to arrest peaceful protesters, as well as those who take pictures of them. Even if the charges are overturned or dropped later, the attempt to discourage citizens from participating in protests is evident.

Despite the justifiable public outcry, the Gag Law seems almost inevitable at this point. The last hurdle the legislation must clear to become official is in the Spanish senate where People’s Party, the conservative party that is in support of these laws, has a clear majority.