SPAIN AND THE LAW ON CITIZEN SAFETY

by Gunnar Eigener 

The Spanish government continues in its relentless pursuit of Catalonians who dared to seek further autonomy and independence. An international warrant was issued from Madrid for the arrest of Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the Catalan separatists, and his recent arrest in Germany has sparked new demonstrations, reigniting the Catalan debate. Puigdemont faces charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds – all of which means he could face the next 25 years in prison.

However, for him to be extradited successfully, German judges need to assess if the charges are punishable under German law. He could be extradited but only to face the charges that are criminal under German law. Five other arrest warrants for other separatist politicians have been issued; some already have been arrested in Spain and sent to prison awaiting trial.

The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he is not enthusiastic about having another regional election in Catalonia and for good reason. The actions of the government in Madrid have done a lot of damage and likely to have pushed more Catalonian together; even those who were against separatism initially. The referendum in October last year was illegal as Catalan voters originally voted for autonomy in the 1978 Spanish democratic constitution that put Catalan down firmly as part of Spain. Nonetheless, while politicians across Europe have had to deal with the increase of populist parties and the potential problems that arise from such an increase, the issue in Spain runs deeper. Spain’s laws are draconian, with harsh penalties for small indiscretions leading to feelings of anger, despair and, perhaps, retaliation.

 Spain’s laws are draconian, with harsh penalties for small indiscretions leading to feelings of anger, despair and, perhaps, retaliation.

Introduced on July 1st 2015, the Law on Citizen Safety has been referred to as Ley Mordaza, or Gag Law. All fines go from 600 Euros up to 30 000 Euros. The infringements include occupying banks as means of protest, for impeding or stopping an eviction, meetings or gatherings in front of Congress, and for not formalising a protest. The law also allows the government to ‘prohibit any protest at will, if it feels ‘order’ will be disrupted’; police are able to carry out raids at their discretion without ‘order’ having been disrupted and allows random checks, including allowing racial profiling. It is also now illegal for photos or footage of Spanish police to be published without permission, something that could be easily be denied by the authorities if they so wished. Cyberactivism also carries penalties, including prison sentences, for those who ‘emit slogans or messages’ that ‘incite any offence of disorderly conduct’. To top it off, this law is actually a somewhat softer version of the original law that was presented by the government.

(Woman protesting against the ley Mordaza, wearing a gag via LookLeft)

That laws such as this are intended to target those who protest against government-imposed austerity is no mistake. In the UK, the Snoopers Charter allows the government and its agencies relative free-rein in designating as terrorists whoever they want and taking action against them that remains largely unaccountable. In the UK, the court case against the Stanstead protestors, who tried to prevent a deportation, has begun. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) charged the protestors with ‘endangering safety at an aerodrome’, a law that was brought in after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and is meant for fighting terrorism. But laws can be twisted to suit the needs of government agencies, like the CPS, and this case has received shamefully little coverage from state and mainstream media.

Such laws, often presented as safety measures for citizens, are in fact safety measures for governments. These laws allow action to be taken with impunity when actions should be measured and a last-resort. In Spain, the already unpopular King and his government continue to look like they are using every resource available to squash an undesirable challenge to their leadership. While the illegal referendum didn’t really help the Catalonian cause of independence, the government reaction ended up showing their true colours and it was not pleasant to see.

 Such laws, often presented as safety measures for citizens, are in fact safety measures for governments.

Any political and cultural challenge should be handled in a diplomatic manner and if laws have been broken, then punishments are fair. But all too often, laws are put in place to criminalise any political or cultural actions that should be perfectly legal. It is this kind of action that means Catalonia will keep on fighting and start getting sympathy from elsewhere.

Featured image: SBA73 / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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