On June 1, Spain passed a law enacting fines of up to US$33,000 for peaceful protest and filming of police. Critics of what they are calling “the gag law” say it is a step back into dictatorship.
According to the New York Times, citizens under the new law can be fined the equivalent of almost US$700 for “insulting” an officer, and over US$33,000 for recording and disseminating images of law enforcement — which are most important and effective during instances of police brutality and abuse of power.
Peaceful protesters could face fines of up to US$664,000 for participating in an unauthorized protest outside government buildings.
Critics of “the gag law” have already begun civil disobedience by sitting in front of government buildings wearing gags around their mouth. “Fascism wants to gag the people,” one sign read.
— Juan Medina, Reuters
Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch told the Times that the law presents “a direct threat to the rights to meet peacefully and freedom of speech in Spain.”
The new law deals a heavy blow to democracy and straight-out human decency in the turbulent country. Punishing attempts to bring transparency and protest to the actions of police goes directly against the pillars of the democratic process, and some consider it a step backwards into Francisco Franco’s fascist dictatorship. Sunderland points out:
“It’s essential for democracy that people have the right to go out on the street in nonviolent protests, to criticize and even insult the authorities, as well as denounce abuses when they occur.”
Jorge Fernández Díaz, Spain’s interior minister, defended the law, saying it should “only worry the violent ones.” Speaking in Parliament this year, Prime Minister Rajoy said that it was an exaggeration to present the law as a restriction on fundamental rights when in fact it was intended to “improve the free exercise of these fundamental rights.” Its hard to see how filming police will threaten “the violent” protesters.
The law is not fully supported by law enforcement, who complain that it is too vague and that their officers are not trained well enough to implement it. It has also been criticized by Maina Kiai, the special rapporteur at the United Nations on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Martin Armstrong of ArmstrongEconomics has described in detail what behaviors may be punished by the new law. Civilians could be fined for “visiting terrorist websites.” And tweeting or retweeting information or the “location of an organized protest” could now be interpreted as an act of terrorism, as it “incites others to ‘commit a crime,’” and more.
The law clearly targets the use of technology and the Internet for civilian organization, protesting and bringing transparency to government actions. Videos of police brutality and other government abuses have been proven to shape international and local opinion. Such is the reasoning for the legal attempt to blind the Internet from delivering transparency to law enforcement.
It will be very interesting to see how activists, such as the Anonymous movement, react to the law.
Protesters who have enough risk tolerance can protect themselves in a variety of ways, including using a reliable VPN service provider to make sure their IP is not tracked, blocking tracking cookies from websites such as Facebook (where possible), taking their communications to end-to-end encrypted chat, and generally being careful to keep up plausible deniability. Though it is not an easy feat, do your own research.
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