A new law that went into effect in Spain on July 1 has much of the country, as well as many human rights organizations, in an uproar. While proponents say the new public security law will reinforce civil liberties, opponents call it the “gag law,” saying it will do just the opposite and take the country a step backward toward dictatorship.
The law covers everything from internet surfing to drug trafficking, but opponents point specifically to portions targeting illegal downloading, habitual access of websites that allegedly promote terrorism, and violent protest, as problematic, saying they include too-loose language that could be abused for political purposes and will limit freedom of speech or even prevent reports of police brutality.
Under the law, citizens can be fined the equivalent of almost $700 for insulting an officer, over $33,000 for recording and disseminating images of police officers, and more than $664,000 for participating in an unauthorized protest outside government buildings, the New York Times reports.
El Pais adds that the law puts an “expiry date” on passive protest, by “granting the police the power to fine anyone who refuses to dissolve meetings and protests in public places.”
Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch told the Times the law presents “a direct threat to the rights to meet peacefully and freedom of speech in Spain.” But Ministers of the Interior and of Justice Jorge Fernández Díaz and Rafael Catalá told El Pais the new laws do not limit citizens’ rights and in fact are meant to reinforce them. Prohibitions on protest outside parliament will make sure “there isn’t excessive pressure on the legislative powers,” they explained.
Spaniards reacted fittingly—by staging a protest in front of parliament. Some held signs that referenced the country’s past, still a sensitive topic 40 years after dictator Francisco Franco’s death. “Fascism wants to gag the people,” one sign read. Other protesters simply sat in silence, their mouths covered in gags or tape.