Citizens across Europe are exercising their rights to express their discontent, challenge government policies and channel their claims through mobilization and peaceful protest. One of the measures taken by the Spanish government in response to an active and vocal civil society against austerity policies has been the draft Law on Public Security, which further restricts freedoms and rights instead of responding to people’s needs and demands.
Spain’s draft Law on Public Security, known as the "Gag Law," will create undue restrictions on the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and will lack safeguards against ethnic profiling by police. In fact, the draft bill, currently being debated by the Senate, has raised concerns from the UN and the Council of Europe in relation to the disproportionate fines and excessive restrictions to rights and freedoms.
The main concerns related to this law include the following:
Disproportionate limitation of the freedom of assembly (or the right to protest): If the law is approved, public space will no longer be a space for political participation, due to the fines that will be imposed for certain peaceful protests, such as demonstrations in front of the Parliament (with fines to up to €30,000) or the peaceful occupation of a building. It is also alarming that the draft law provides for imposition of fines in cases of spontaneous peaceful protests.
Violation of the freedom of expression: If approved, the draft Law on Public Security will impose fines of up to €30,000 for “unauthorized use of images or personal or professional data of the authorities or law enforcement officers,” which, in addition to violating freedom of expression, may lead to impunity in cases of excessive use of force by the police. In many cases, these images are the main evidence used in proceedings against them. The draft law also includes the “lack of regard or consideration for law enforcement officers” as an offense, which could lead to the imposition of fines up to €600 for expressing critical opinions of police activities. These behaviors are protected by international human rights standards and should not be criminalized under the new law.
Lack of safeguards against ethnic profiling: Finally, the draft law does not establish guarantees against ethnic profiling by police, as it does not implement any of the measures recommended by international human rights bodies to prevent these practices. Ethnic profiling has proven to be ineffective in preventing crimes, is discriminatory and stigmatizes and criminalizes a sector of Spanish society just because of their physical appearance.
Reactions from international bodies
The UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association has also expressed similar concerns over the “excessive and disproportionate restrictions to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly” that would be imposed by this law. These restrictions could undermine the “necessary pluralism, tolerance, and open-mind for any democratic society.” The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe has voiced "serious concerns" regarding the disproportionate fines as well as the vague wording of certain provisions. He has also said that he has doubts with regard to the fact that "these restrictions are necessary in a democratic society instead of other means to protect people’s security and public order without interfering with the right to freedom of assembly."
Raise your voice and ask the senators of Spain to vote against this law!