defending rights and civil liberties


Public Safety Act

*  Video. Interview with Cristina de la Serna, OSJI fellow in Spain on discriminatory and arbitrary police checks based on ethnic or racial profiling. (sp)

RIS Legal Brief: The Public Safety Draft Bill. Restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly (sp)

RIS Legal Brief: The use of racial profiling by the police in Spain: a historic opportunity to eradicate these practices. (sp)

* Joint Allegation Letter to the UN concerning the Public Safety Draft Bill. (sp)

* RIS Blog: "Protecting public safety effectively" (sp)

RIS Blog: "Observations of the UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly to the Criminal Code reform and the Public Safety Law" (sp)

* Submissions to UN: "Joint Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Spain" (sp)

The Government wants to reform the law relating to the protection of public safety, the so-called "Corcuera Law", in force since 1992. The current reform has already been called the "anti - protest law" and the "muzzle law," because it seeks to impose penalties on citizens for even peaceful and responsible protest, suppressing their fundamental rights to participate in public affairs, freedom of assembly and directly limiting their freedom of expression.

The text put forward by the government states, “the occupation of any common, public or private space” will be considered an administrative infraction subject to a fine of up to €1,000. A park is a common space. A square is a common space. A street is a common space. What is the government thinking by including this “infraction” in the bill?

The reform also includes several administrative infractions for holding rallies and demonstrations without prior notification to relevant authorities. In other words, both the organizers and the participants can be held liable under this law. However, the right to freedom of assembly enshrined in the Constitution also includes the State’s obligation to protect spontaneous demonstrations, which take place in immediate reaction to a specific event, and like those without clearly defined organizers, and are therefore unlikely or able to provide a prior notice to the authorities. Little more than a year ago the United Nations reminded governments of their obligation to protect these instances, referring to social protests like “Occupy Wall Street,” the Arab Spring or Spain’s very own 15M movement.

What if the protests where to be held on the fringes of, for example, a dam, a port or a nuclear power plant? In that case, the fine could reach up to €600,000. The same fine will be imposed should a demonstration be called for or attended on “reflection days” held prior to elections. A protest in front of Congress or a regional legislative assembly, even if representatives are absent, can also incur a fine of up to €30,000 for organizers as well as participants.

Furthermore, the Public Safety Act Amendment Bill, also holds jointly responsible “those who through publications or calls to demonstrations… through verbal or written declarations, disseminate, via the use of slogans, flags, or other provocative symbols, and can be reasonably considered as leaders or inspirers” of gatherings, protests or demonstrations.

Will the author of an opinion piece who criticizes public management or decries the lack of mobilization on behalf of citizens be considered an “inspirer” of a demonstration and therefore be fined? Considering somebody responsible “for the publication” of a call to protest can lead to consequences for anybody who shares via social network, or any other means, a rallying poster, without having even participated in the organization of, or even the gathering or demonstration, itself.

To hold a person or group accountable as “inspirer” for the flags, signs or slogans that may be used in a demonstration implies giving the authorities the power to impose sanctions on a group that may have absolutely nothing to do with the organization or call of that protest, but whose symbols may have been used by the participants.

The reform also includes sanctions for actions which represent the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. An individual, for example, can be fined for porting an Anonymous mask, or simply a white mask, during a spontaneous demonstration against activities that pollute the environment. Or, in fact, anybody who spreads the call to protest via the Internet or any channel of communication.

What would happen should the social media be used to broadcast the message; “Everybody, let’s go to the Plaza Mayor to protest against the passing of the Public Safety Law! Bring your own muzzle”? Firstly, the police could stop and identify anybody who may be wearing a handkerchief symbolically as a muzzle. Secondly, all partakers could be fined for participating in a demonstration where prior notice was not provided to the authorities. Thirdly, those who spread the call to rally may be fined for broadcasting, and inspiring, the gathering.

The Government also wants to impede the recording through videos or photographs of police, as well as the sharing of these images. These images, however, are the only evidence available to denounce abuses incurred by the police upon citizens.

Added to this, the reform would impose a fine of up to 30,000 Euros for, via any means, “insults or outrages to Spain, the autonomous communities, institutions, symbols, anthems or emblems.” Does anybody know what might offend Spain?