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November 19, 2013
November 19, 2013

Spain: €600,000 fines for calling on Twitter to a protest before the Congress

Author: Pedro Águeda Translator: Eleni Nicolaou
Source: El Diario  Category: On the crisis
This article is also available in: eles
Spain: €600,000 fines for calling on Twitter to a protest before the Congress

“Insulting” or “coercing” the police during a protest may result in a 30,000€ fine.
The new Public Safety Act will consider 16 new cases to punish financially.

The new Law on Public Safety will consider the participation in a demonstration outside the House of Representatives or any other state institution as a very serious offence, if it has not been communicated to the Government Office or in case it does not have authorisation. However, not only participating in the protest will be subject to punishment: those who have called it through the Internet, social networking sites or any other means may also be charged with a very serious offence. Possible fines for each case will range between €30,000 and €600,000, according to the Ministry of Interior.

Under the echo of the general strike of the 29th of March, 2012, Jorge Fernández Díaz (Interior Minister) announced that calling to a protest that ends up in riots would be a crime. At the same time, he warned that passive resistance will also be included in the new Penal Code. Six days later, the Justice Minister said that neither of the two was in the law that his department was drafting. A year and a half after that misunderstanding, the Government has prepared a Draft Law on Public Safety with 55 offences that come to remedy the deficiencies in the new Penal Code. Thus, the 39 existing offences will become 55. Out of these 55 violations, 21 will be very serious, such as unauthorised protests in front of the House of Representatives.

The National Court halted a year ago an Interior Minister’s attempt to criminalise the protesters of the “Surround the Congress” movement and its organisers. The Penal Code criminalises the “disturbance” of the Parliament’s normal function when the MPs are gathered. When the new Public Safety Bill is passed, it will not even require the presence of a single MP for a protester to be criminalised and thus become punishable by up to a €600,000 fine.

That protest of the 25th of September 2012 in front of the House of Representatives only cost the demonstrators the accusation of participating in the violent riots that broke out towards its end. But the consequences have gone much further. The Ministry of Interior and the ruling conservative party of PP on the one hand, and the organisers and protesters on the other, fought a battle to blame one another for the riots. The Ministry of Jorge Fernández Díaz defended the police actions as proportionate to the threat that the protest represented and, although he had no other choice but to open an investigation into their behaviour at the station of Atocha, he left the file on hold for months until he closed the case without anyone being charged.

One of the protesters’ arguments was the pictures they took with their mobile phones. However, the dissemination of riot police pictures during demonstrations also happens to be a very serious offence, fined with up to €600,000. “Insulting, harassing, threatening or coercing” members of the Security Forces constitutes a serious violation, with fines from €1,000 to €30,000, while disseminating online data of police officers that could be considered as an attack on their or their family’s privacy, or that contribute to the disruption of an operation, will be equally fined with up to €600,000. According to the new law, not providing one’s DNA to the police will constitute a serious offence.

Additionally, covering one’s face with hoods, caps or helmets will also involve a heavy fine, if it was meant to disrupt public order in a demonstration, regardless of whether the act committed is otherwise considered a crime. Finally, despite last week’s claims by Fernandez Diaz, “escrache” will not constitute an offence in itself, according to ministerial sources. However, this new form of protest has led to the new law giving the right to the Police to set up security cordons when such a protest, which the government calls “harassment”, is taking place.

Ecological protests

In the chapter on civil disobedience, the participants in ecological protests also find themselves affected. For example, activists flying over a nuclear power plant to draw attention to the negative effects of this energy source will be committing a very serious offence, just like when flying over an airport or any infrastructure considered “crucial”. Additionally, if protesters opt for blocking a road with their vehicles, just like the movement against toll payment did in Catalunya, according to the new Law, the security forces have the power to break up the protest. Climbing up a landmark monument or building will be considered serious misconduct.

The Minister of Interior ensures that, in order to finalise the law, not only did he meet with police unions but he also consulted with neighbourhood organisations and parents’ associations. In fact, any offences committed by minors are the parents’s responsibility. The Ministry believes that this measure worked in combating the ‘street violence’ in the Basque Country and in Navarre and that is why it has been included in the new Law on Public Safety.

Below the very serious infringements, there will be the serious ones, with fines of between €1,000 and €30,000, as well as the light ones, involving fines of between €100 and €1,000. From the Ministry of Interior it is reminded that the three types of offences and the fines they involve do not imply any modification with regards to the law currently in force. For example, soliciting sex near schools, parks or other areas frequented by minors is included in the category of serious offences. Likewise, the practice of prostitution on roads or service roads, endangering road safety, is also punishable.

A marijuana plant, a serious misconduct

As for the possession and consumption of drugs, both actions, when in public, will continue to be fined, together with the abandonment in a public space of drug paraphernalia. And a novelty: growing marijuana in a given amount has already been a crime if aimed at drug trafficking. Now even growing it with no such aim, and therefore not intended for drug trafficking but for consumption, will also be fined.

Other serious offences concern alcohol consumption when disrupting tranquillity, animals’ mistreatment during unauthorised spectacles, participating in the so-called “cundas” that transfer drug addicts from the inner cities to the drug villages located in the suburbs.

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