Seven years ago, No Somos Delito started from half a dozen parties, among which the PSOE was not, the commitment to repeal or completely reform the Citizen Security Law imposed by the absolute majority of Mariano Rajoy in the first parliamentary session in which numbers allow. That month of February 2015, at the Ateneo de Madrid, it was celebrated that the so-called ‘gag law’ would be born dead. This Tuesday, in the same forum, they lamented that the reform that is being debated is “altogether insufficient, not very ambitious, not very courageous and, in some matters, propels steps backwards” and that it will not mean a paradigm shift with respect to that of the PP, because it does not eliminate the most harmful aspects or advance towards a model that guarantees the rights and freedoms of citizens.
“I’m not lying if I tell you that I don’t like the proposal that is currently being debated, nor the starting point – a PNV bill – nor the joint proposal presented by the PSOE and United We Can”, recognized Sara López Martín, spokesperson for the platform, which brings together more than a hundred organizations, at the ‘Day for a Citizen Security Law that guarantees Rights and Freedoms: Let’s put an end to the Gag Law’. “The PNV proposal only modifies 30% of the law and does not mean that it is in a guaranteeing sense,” she has denounced.
Two issues are mainly of concern: that the proposal maintains infractions for disobedience, resistance and refusal to identify oneself and fines for lack of respect for agents and their presumption of veracity. “It is the catch-all of police arbitrariness,” said Sara López Martín, in line with what Amnesty International already denounced in December, which considered that this part of the articles had been applied “extensively and unfairly to thousands of citizens “.
“People who have mobilized peacefully have been sanctioned for repeatedly asking why the police were asking for their documentation, for carrying a bag with the acronym ACAP – all policemen are bastards, for its acronym in English – or for telling police officers who were executing an eviction that this was inhumane,” said Daniel Canales, one of the organization’s lawyers. Between 2015, when the law that the coalition government now wants to reform came into force, and 2019, 70% of the sanctions – some 200,000, according to AI – were imposed under the umbrella of these two articles.
The focus on human rights
These sanctions, he explained, can continue to occur and in turn generate a “demobilizing and dissuasive effect”. “We need a law that places the center and focus on guaranteeing the exercise of human rights and not on the protection of that vague concept of citizen security,” said Canales, who has called for “a modified sanctioning regime, eliminating infractions or modifying those that have a vague and generic wording, such as resistance, disobedience or refusal to identify themselves”.
The new reform, which is still in the presentation of the Interior Commission of Congress, where the first session has already been held and where it will return on February 15, does not expressly contemplate the prohibition of making identifications by ethnic-racial profile . “In 2018, half of the police identifications were made of migrants,” recalled the spokesman for the Manteros Union, Malik Gueye. “Undocumented migrants have never had freedom of movement and have always had to live with the threat of being stopped by the police and deported or interned in a CIE,” he explained, before denouncing that “when a migrant or racialized society questions the structure of the State, the State responds with the judiciary to criminalize people”.
“For me it is not a question of human rights, it is a question of power. The police want power, without democratic control.” Gueye was referring to another of the controversial points of the reform: the presumption of veracity of the agents. “It makes police arbitrariness prevail and prevents the effective defense of citizenship,” lamented López Martín. “The presumption of veracity is used to impose a version of the facts, but those facts that the agents of the authority capture in a document or in a complaint cannot include subjective assessments or opinions and those disrespect or disobedience are very common. I tell of this assessment because what is a lack of respect?” Reasons the spokesman for Judges for Democracy, Ignacio Fernández Soto.
The changes provided for in the reform of the Citizen Security Law do not contemplate the control mechanisms for actions by the State Security Forces and Bodies that are carried out arbitrarily, nor do they comply with the recommendations of the Council of Europe. This institution already urged Spain in March 2021 to reform this law due to its “repressive potential”, something that the associations consider is not being reversed.
An “absolutely insufficient” law
“We agree that this law is absolutely insufficient, in the same way that we cannot do anything other than push as hard as possible so that it is the best possible within the framework that has been presented to us, which is not ours”, indicated the spokesperson for the Defend Whoever Defends Platform, Andrés García Berrio. He has recalled the deaths of at least 14 people trying to reach Spain through the Tarajal, “who did not die because they were simply swimming, but the launch of rubber bullets and tear gas canisters was detected”, or that of Iñigo Cabacas in Bilbao.
“This riot gear has consequences that can be lethal and that can mark the lives of many people. In the event that the law itself does not prohibit this type of weaponry, we will continue working” to make it happen in the coming months, García warned. Berrio. He has recognised, with a certain sarcastic tone, the progress that the reform implies, including the creation of a protocol on the use of force and anti-riot material.
The president of the Platform for the Defense of Freedom of Information (PDLI), Virginia Pérez Alonso, has also denounced the “very serious consequences for journalism, information and journalists who cover protests” of this article that, as planned, will remain in the reform. And she adds the point that refers to the capture of images by the police. “We have started 2022 with the Catalan photojournalist Mireia Comas sanctioned for refusing to delete a photo when the agents asked her to,” she recalled. In her case, the fine amounted to 601 euros, in application of the Gag Law.
“There is a discouragement effect. Many are freelancers, who do not have coverage with full guarantees by a media outlet. If they are not going to cover the protests, citizens do not receive information about what is happening and nothing has happened here “, has also recalled the director of Público, who has emphasized that “cutting off freedom of information is mortally wounding any democracy”.
Organizations such as Greenpeace will continue to be exposed to the highest fines. “When designing actions, we already have sanctions in mind that can reach up to 600,000 euros,” explained its head of civil rights campaigns, Javier García Raboso. He talks about fines for climbing buildings or accessing critical infrastructure, something they do peacefully to put up signs and “point out those responsible for the climate emergency.” Amounts that represent the “civil death” of any organization because “there is no one who can assume them.”
“We recognize some progress,” said López. Because the new law does contemplate the elimination of sanctions in spontaneous demonstrations, and therefore are not communicated, and develops new protocols on the use of force and riot gear, suppresses infractions such as demonstrations before Congress and adapts the fines to the economic capacity of the sanctioned persons.
During the first session of the presentation in Congress, the investiture partners have achieved that the co-official languages are included in the DNI and the passport and that the economic capacity to request them is taken into account. In the next sessions of the paper, which will resume on February 15, it remains to discuss the hot returns, the use of riot gear and the presumption of veracity of the police testimonies.
And, although the associations do not consider that this reform will suppose a paradigm shift, from We Are Not Crimes they consider that “it is still possible to achieve a better or less bad law”. For the moment, on February 13 they have called a demonstration in Madrid, from Atocha to Puerta del Sol, under the slogan: “Neither gag law nor make-up gag.”