SPAIN: Interview with Defender a Quien Defiende – Supporting resistance against state repression

In July 2019, we interviewed the Spanish collective Defender a Quien Defiende. According to Albert Caramés Boada, Researcher and Professor on International Relations Peace, Conflict and Security Master Coordinator at Universitat Ramon Llull, “Four years after the approval of the package of the so-called gag laws in Spain (Citizen Security Law, Reform of the Criminal Code & Anti-Terrorist Law), the situation we are living is, more than ever, a serious regression of civil and political rights. Often the clearest image of the violation of rights in protest contexts are the agents of the State Security Forces aggressively attacking demonstrators, limiting the course of a demonstration or irregularly arresting people after a protest. However, the repression is also exercised through political and police public statements that feed a context of fear. This demobilises citizens when it comes to defending their rights. Defender a quien defiende contributes to breaking the fear by supporting social movements offering them tools of protection, organisation and working for political accountability on rights violation.” This interview with Defender a Quien Defiende belongs to the six stories of Resistance collected in Acitivizenship #4.


Can you tell us about Defender a quien defiende and who is involved?

Defender a quien defiende is a platform formed by human rights defenders, journalists, psychologists, legal experts and social movements that fight against the criminalisation of organised civil society. Our main goals are to fight against laws and governmental actions that criminalise human rights defenders in Spain and violate their rights in the context of protests; to improve capacities, action, resources and coordination of civil society organisations to influence the protection of rights politically, socially and legally; to support the development of public policies and social practices that work for a “Human security” concept.

When did your fight start? And what motivates you to keep fighting despite the political unwillingness to reform the Gag Laws?

We started to work in 2014, one year before the approval of the so-called Gag Laws in Spain in the face of the regression of rights we could face. Members of the platform are movements and organisations that work on a multitude of issues related to human rights (environment, feminism, housing, migrations, institutional violence…) so this is not a new field of work.

However, ¡t is the right to protest that brought us together!

What keeps us working and united is the feeling of fighting for what is fair, for social justice. All members and member organisations have the defence of human rights in their DNA and know the importance and necessity of having an organised society to maintain them. So, we know that, although the Government does not seem to move a finger to repeal the gag laws, our work is improving the day-to-day life of social movements and is generating useful tools for the defence of rights!

We are motivated, as well, by the feeling of unity and family even though it is very difficult to maintain it when we are not “physically” in the same territory. For that reason, we work hard on the cohesion of the group even in separate territories. Thanks to Defender a quien Defiende, we feel that Cádiz, Sevilla, Madrid or Barcelona are at the same time and in the same place, as a common front against the violations of human rights.

How has participation and repression in Spain changed since you started? And how did you adapt your strategy to this changing landscape?

Spain is inside a political cycle in which the legal architecture has allowed the criminalisation of any organised form of political dissent. The persecution of activists and human rights defenders had happened before. However, now the law has been modified in a way to legitimate the irregular practices affecting fundamental rights directly.

In 2015, a reform of the Penal Code and a new Public Security Law were approved alleging a national security problem. During the first years, there was a considerable decline in the exercise of protests as a result of the burorepresión, persecution, criminalisation and fear of prosecutions or/and police violence. It is the chilling effect some laws have on the population.

This week, one of our members, published a report where they pointed out that 69,6% of cases denouncing institutional violence they received as lawyers in 2018 happened in the context of protests.

Our way of adapting work to the changing situation is based on the creation of working groups regarding specific incidents as well as on the confidence in the work that each member organisation does. For example, during this year we have created an advocacy group that produced reports that will be taken to the United Nations and a communication group that has been generating official statements on sensitive issues. [We also created] another one for the development of our new reporting and monitoring tool, Red Malla. We created these groups to adapt our strategy and capacity of work to reality.

What is the role of the territorial nodes, and how do you use the monitoring of the Red Malla for your activities?

Red Malla collects and analyses violations of the right to protest committed by police forces and private security companies in Spain. Red Malla is a support network and works with the data collected by the “nodes” and the information we receive through the specific form on the webpage. Now, we have nodes active in Madrid, Granada, Seville, Zaragoza and Barcelona.

Last year, we published our first report, which helped us to have comparable data on how the laws are applied and the specific vulnerabilities that occur in the context of protest.

Red Malla is a digital platform, working with a digital security code, that maps where and how repression is happening. But, the most important thing is that it creates the possibility and the context for alliances and solidarity through its nodes: If you have a problem, we connect you with a node to create community and integral protection. At the same time, nodes are connected between them thanks to the meetings of the General Assembly.

In the occasion of the 8 March, you ran a campaign called “Feminismos activos y seguros”. How is state repression against women, women’s movements and groups that are not heteronormal different from other forms of repression?

With the collaboration of Calala Fondo de Mujeres, we promote the campaign “Feminismos activos y seguros”, in order to contribute to the safe activism of feminist activists and movements in Spain. The campaign is focused on activists, movements and organisations that are being subjected to criminalisation, harassment, or any other form of violence because of their feminist activism and/or their work in defence of the rights of women, lesbians and trans in the Spanish State. The goal is to cover the legal costs of prosecution, the administrative fines.

Last year, some women were fined or even prosecuted for organising and/or participating in mobilisations or other feminist popular actions and even because of hanging posters on street walls.

The state itself is not the only actor against feminism in Spain. The political right-wing and fundamentalist groups are working very hard against the feminist movement. They have an open battle against what they call “the gender ideology”. In this sense, they are using courts as a way to limit the freedom of expression and assembly of the feminist movement. Many feminist activists are on trials accused of hate crimes or crime of offence against religious sentiment (Article 510 and 525 of the Criminal Code). Fundamentalist groups, such as Hazte Oír or the Catholic Lawyers Association, are also proactive with campaigns of harassment to the people and clinics where women can get abortion.

How do you reach feminist activists and what kind of support do you provide?

We started a communication campaign that we launched on March 7th, one day before the general feminist strike. During the previous months, we mapped feminist organisations throughout Spain, women journalists, lawyers, and decentralised strike coordinators to communicate the project to them. Many of the people who participate in Defender a quien defiende are feminists. Moreover, Calala – an active member of the platform – has been developing very much in this line for some time, especially since the feminist movement has re-emerged stronger on the streets.

What is the potential impact of these movements in the long-term on Spain?

The feminist movement – along with the referendum on 1st October in Catalonia – has meant a break in the cycle of protests in which Spain was immersed. An era in which, because of the approval of the gag laws, there was a decline in popular action. Since two or three years, feminism broke this dynamic and reclaimed the public space throughout Spain, reactivating struggles, connecting grassroots.

The re-activation of the feminist movement in the streets started when Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón was Minister of Justice, from 2011 to 2014. He tried to approve a new Abortion Law with a bill on the Protection of the Conceived and the Rights of the Pregnant, eliminating the right for women to decide freely. Finally, thanks to social organisations, the approval did not happen, and Gallardon resigned.

Currently, there are assemblies and groups of women, lesbians and trans in many Spanish cities. All propose a change of the system: roles, privileges, power and reclaim to put life at the centre of everything. There are more and more young people who call themselves “feminists”.

Therefore, the potential of this movement is very high since they are an important and real counterpower that can disrupt the status quo. In fact, it is already raising important legislative changes, for example, in parental conciliation laws and domestic work, but also very interesting practices of feminist economy and intersectional struggle (gender and race) with protests that linked migrant women and migration law.

Read the full report here.