Imagine a world where the right to protest or organise a rally was only granted to the wealthy. This is about to happen in Spain.
Last week the Government passed a pack of reforms that will penalise, with heavy fines, most forms of social protests. Want to oppose coal burning with a protest near a coal power plant? Be prepared to pay 600.000 Euro – per activist! This is one of the direct consequences of the new “Gag Law”.
Some context: In May 2011, right after the Arab Spring, people all over Spain camped in public squares to protest against corruption, budget cuts, bipartisanship and banks beings rescued, among other issues. It’s what we call the “Indignados” movement. Since then, protests have become more frequent and larger in Spain. They have also adopted some new forms: protests at the front door of politicians, flamenco or rumba singing at bank branches, gatherings to stop evictions from houses, etc.
The Partido Popular coming to power in November 2011 added fuel to the fire of these protests, due to its big corruption scandals, lack of social dialogue and promotion of very unpopular laws and policies such as a ban on abortion, a new electoral law that further penalises small parties, and massive budget cuts to health and education. The party has also set up policies that take the country decades backwards in environmental practices: relaxed building restrictions on the coast, reforms that favour oligopolies in the energy sector, increasing electricity bills and turning towards obsolete and polluting sources of energy among many other unsavoury things.
Thus, the Government, instead of tackling the very causes of public unrest, is passing worrying reforms (Código Penal or Criminal Code and Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana or Citizen’s Security Act) aimed at minimising any expression of discontent against its politics. The Government is alone in this journey. The reforms have been heavily criticized by every party in the opposition, in addition to lawyers, judges and even the police and the UN Commission for Human Rights.
While the reforms are specifically designed to counter the new forms of protests mentioned above, they now include two articles aimed directly at Greenpeace’s activities: climbing buildings and demonstrating near certain infrastructures, such as power plants and docks.
The new rules will penalise social protests with higher and higher fines, which would be issued at the administration’s convenience. Basically this will make protests readily usable for political purposes. Going to an impromptu demonstration or deploying a banner from a building, for instance, can now be fined with up to 1,000 Euro per person. But if the banner is hung from a nuclear power plant or other infrastructure like this, fines can reach 600.000 Euro per activist – all upon Government’s discretion.
Freedom of expression and assembly and the right to protest are at stake here. But Greenpeace will do every possible thing to defend that right. Greenpeace Spain will continue working with other organisations at a national and international level. And, of course, doing what we do best: peaceful protests.
Raul San Mateo is Communications Specialist with Greenpeace Spain.
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