Update 1 August: The Canarian Government has announced that the case against the Guimar man denounced by local police for calling them skivers will be archived, i.e. not taken any further. The Government said that the local police only had the power to call for a prosecution, which they had done by virtue of their denuncia, but that the decision whether to apply the law was beyond their remit.
Democracy prevails? Or just common sense given the outcry over such use of a law which, the national Government insisted, was for the purposes of public security and to try to pre-empt disruptive nationalistic mass protests in the regions where independence is a major issue, like Catalonia. In time, at least, it seems to have been realised that perhaps its application against someone for just calling skivers some local police employed by a council in Tenerife would have seemed ridiculous.
Update 27 July: One of the first official actions against a member of the public under the new gag law has been initiated in Tenerife. Eduardo Díaz Coello of Güímar is set to become the first person in Spain to become the first victim of the law, which came into effect on the first of this month, for a remark on the Güímar mayor’s Facebook page labelling the local police as “skivers”. Any defence is likely to centre on the “political nature” of the remark, and that it was not aimed at any police officer in particular, but the charge is that a lack of respect was shown to the force collectively, and this infraction is recognized. It is classified as a “minor” offence, with a fine between €100 and €600 … it’s clearly now best to watch what we say …
Update 26 March 2015: The new Citizen Security Law has been passed today, and will come into force on 1 July. From then, fines of up to €30,000 can be issued for any and all insults to Spain or its symbols and officials. Protests are also banned completely outside significant public buildings, though the passing of the legislation was met with defiance in the form of protests outside Spain’s parliament. The new measures enshrine in law 31 “serious offences” for which fines start at €30,000 and rise, for the most serious cases,to €600,000; these are primarily public order offences, e.g. demonstrations, particularly on significant days like those involving major sports events, or “days of reflection” on the eve of elections.
Update 18 December 2014: This new law, called the “ley mordaza” (gag law) was passed last week despite opponents saying that it would take Spain back fifty years. Such arguments together with public protests saw off the proposed strict abortion law, but one aspect of this new law is that such public protests will now be subject to fines of up to €600,000! That is the fine prescribed for unauthorized protests outside “public service” buildings.
Apart from restricting protest, the new law bans the public from taking photographs or videoing the police when they could be endangered – a clause clearly open to the widest possible official interpretation – and fines of up to €30,000 are now in place for those who do so. Another clause open to very wide interpretation is that of being disrespectful to uniformed officers: anyone showing a “lack of respect”, whatever that means, can be fined €600 for the privilege of venting their frustration.
The law was passed narrowly, but passed it has been because of the ruling PP party’s majority in Parliament. It will now go to the senate for final approval, but its passage through the upper house is secure because the PP has a large majority there too.
Original post 30 November 2013: In a new law that has been approved by cabinet and is currently starting its process through Parliament, Spain is legislating against “offenses against Spain”. The new Citizens Security Law will see fines of up to €30,000 for “insults or abuse” levied against the country or its officials. “Insult or abuse” is deemed to include shouting, carrying placards, protesting, or demonstrating, even joining a picket line is specified, as is helping prevent an eviction.
Only the other day someone was sentenced to two years in prison for placing a custard pie on the head of a politician. The protester was deemed to have “humiliated” the woman in the course of her duties. He will not go to prison as a two year sentence for a first offender results in the sentence being suspended, but if that is the force of existing legislation, one wonders how severely the ruling conservative party envisages the need for the new law.
The Parliamentary opposition, together with liberty groups, have denounced the measures as repressive. Some use stronger language, but that strong language is likely soon to become illegal on the grounds that it is insulting or abusive. Greenpeace España spokeswoman Sara del Río said that the government was breaking the rules of play in a democracy, and commited the organization to a public awareness campaign to ensure that Spaniards raise their voices against the Bill.
The voices already ranged against the Bill have at least achieved the reduction of the proposed penalties. Originally, the law called for fines of up to €30,000 on those who take part in a botellón, and up to €600,000 for those who organize demonstrations without a permit! Fines for those crimes have been dropped to €1,000 and €30,000 respectively.
The actual object of the law seems to be the anticipated increasing protests from independence-minded regions like Catalonia which want to break away from Spain, but it seems to me that these measures are a real step backward in a democracy that really is still in its childhood, if not actual infancy. How long before even this personal opinion is censored because it’s “abusive” or “insulting”? Well, early next year is when this law is likely to come into force, so we won’t have long to wait to find out.