SPAIN: “The proposed reform of the Gag Law still leaves freedom of assembly, expression and information in danger”

On 9 December, the European Civic Forum organised a policy debate, hosted by Anna Donath (MEP, Rapporteur of the European Parliament report on the shrinking space for civil society and Shadow rapporteur of the European Parliament report on the EU Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law report).

The title of the event was “Defending European civic space in the framework on the European Rule of Law mechanism” and it was designed as an opportunity for key civil society actors from across Europe to discuss with high level representatives of EU and international institutions about the main challenges they are facing today, and how to strengthen the European Rule of Law mechanism to counter them.

Many CSOs’ testimonies were presented during the policy debate. Here the one made by Sol Roman, lawyer and member of Comisión Legal Sol, No Somos Delito and Defender a Quien Defiende (Spain):

“Good evening,

My name ́s Sol Roman and I ́m here on behalf of Comisión Legal Sol, a grass-rooted movement that works supporting activists fined or detained in social demonstrations. We also belong to No Somos Delito and Defender a Quien Defiende, a broad coalition of more than one hundred organizations and social movements, belonging to a significant segment of the Spanish civil society. Since 2015, we have had in place a very restrictive law, the Citizens’ Security Law (commonly known as Gag Law), which directly affected freedom of assembly and expression. After many years of pressure by civil society and human rights groups, finally, a process of reform of this law has been started by the Government. Next 14th December, the amendments to this law will start to be discussed by the Commission of Home Affairs of the Congress. However, from civil society, the reform as it has been proposed is considered completely insufficient as long as it does not reform the more detrimental articles concerning the right to freedom of assembly, expression, and information, as well as other human rights.

We will resume the main claims of civil society in which we request international actors to position themselves so we can improve the upcoming reform of the Citizens’ Security Law:

  • To withdraw from the Law the presumption of the veracity of police officers (art. 52), which continues to allow police arbitrariness and to violate the right to a fair trial (Art.6 ECHR) and the right to an effective remedy (Art. 13 ECHR) and the presumption of innocence. That the proposal right now even extends the presumption of veracity to prison officers, with the actual abundance of cases of ill-treatment attributed to prison officers;
  • To guarantee the principle of non-discrimination in the regulation of identifications (art. 16), searches (art. 18) and frisks (art. 20) throughout the prohibition of ethnic and racial profiling, and the implementation of effective mechanisms for its prevention. Specific measures should also be taken to guarantee the rights of LGTBIQ+ community.
  • Establish mechanisms of control to ensure police accountability. Specifically, we call for the proper identification of police officers, in accordance with European standards. The law says nothing about the claim of the ban to use of rubber bullets as an antiriot material that does not allow compliance with the international human rights standards because of the unprecise nature of the weapon and its lack of traceability;
  • To withdraw the most applied offences in the repression of protest, namely “Disobedience” (Art. 36.6, serious offence, fine of 601 to 30.000€), and “Disrespect” (art. 37.4, minor offence, fine from 100 to 600€). These offences have been used to systematically repress social mobilization, the vague terms in which they are formulated allow police arbitrariness and undermine legal certainty. We demand the withdrawal of offences sanctioning unreported or prohibited demonstrations in infrastructures or facilities that provide basic services to the community (art. 35.1, very serious offence, fine from 30.001€ to 600.000€, and art. 36.9, serious offence, fine from 601 to 30.000€) only used to sanction the specific protest repertoire of some environmental organizations. We also claim for the withdrawal of the offence allowing the organizer to be sanctioned for public disorders occurring during demonstrations (art. 37.1, minor offence, fine from 100 to 600€, and art. 30.3);
  • To put in place measures to guarantee the right to freedom of information with regards to the recording of images or video of police officers at duty, which is also key to ensure police accountability. It is necessary to remove the possibility of a police officer to ban recording under the premise that an unlawful use of the audiovisual materials could take place, without the need to provide any evidence (art. 36.23, serious offence, fine of 601 to 30.000€);
  • Last but not least, human rights groups and civil society are deeply concerned with the fact that summary expulsions at borders are not being banned in the proposal to reform the Law. Without the inclusion of these provisions, the repressive potential of the Citizens’ Security Law will remain unaffected.

It is key to count on international pressure in line with previous pronouncements to foster a real reform for the protection of fundamental freedoms in Spain. For this reason, we deeply thank you for your time and consideration, and we remain at your disposal for further information or any request.”