Well, Spain’s officially a police state now. On July 1st, its much-protested “gag” law went into effect, instantly making criminals of those protesting the new law. Among the many new repressive stipulations is a €30,000-€600,000 fine for “unauthorized protests,” which can be combined for maximum effect with a €600-€300,000 fine for “disrupting public events.”
This horrible set of statutes has arisen from Spain’s position as a flashpoint for anti-austerity protests, the European precursor to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Fines, fines and more fines await anyone who refuses to treat authority with the respect it’s forcibly requiring citizens to show it.
The law also extends its anti-protest punishments to social media, where users can face similar fines for doing nothing more than encouraging or organizing a protest. Failing to present ID when commanded is another fine. And then there’s this:
Showing a “lack of respect” to those in uniform or failing to assist security forces in the prevention of public disturbances could result in an individual fine of between €600 and €30,000.
Spain’s legislators thought of everything. To ensure these crackdowns on protests go off with a minimum of public backlash, “respected” police officers are being given a blank check to use as much force as they feel necessary when breaking up “unauthorized protests.” The law doesn’t directly instruct police to behave badly, but it does provide a very helpful increase in opacity.
A clause in the wide-ranging legislation that critics have dubbed the “gag law” provides for fines of up to 30,000 euros ($33,000) for “unauthorized use” of images of working police that could identify them, endanger their security or hinder them from doing their jobs.
Somehow, the Spanish government has managed to find an expectation of privacy within its public spaces and applied it to its public servants. While the law does make some provision for the public’s “right to know,” it also defers to law enforcement’s judgment when it comes to what is or isn’t “authorized use” of photographs/video depicting police performing their public duties.
Obviously, this small nod towards the public’s rights is completely insincere. The government wants to clamp down on protests and it obviously can’t be embarrassed by award-winning photographs/video of its police officers beating civilians wholly uninvolved with the protests that so angried up the cops’ blood.
Victora Lerena, president of Spain’s association representing visual journalists, thinks the language about freedom of information will protect journalists, but predicts anyone who tries to take images of police at protests without media organization credentials could be at risk.
This is likely true, considering the “credentialed” press already blurs officers’ faces when reporting. But the most damning images of police misconduct usually come from unofficial sources, and even the most aggressive of mainstream news outlets frequently defer to the government’s judgment when reporting on alleged police abuse.
Spain has outlawed dissent and given the police extra protections and respect they haven’t earned. That’s as close to a police state as you can get without actually declaring martial law.