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Amnesty International condemns 'gagging law': 34,000 fined for actions 'permitted by EU rules'
AMNESTY International has denounced Spain's so-called 'gagging law', which led to 34,000 fines being dished out last year alone.
Of these, at least 12,000 were for 'disobedience of or resistance to authority', which can be as inoffensive as refusing to show one's ID when requested to for absolutely no reason.
'Disobedience' and 'resistance' also cover staging demonstrations which do not have express written permission from the provincial authorities – and as the authorities are able to block any demonstrations they do not agree with, this effectively eradicates the right to social activism and freedom of expression.
A refugee charity in Gandia (Valencia province) held peaceful gatherings once a week on their town hall steps holding banners, to raise awareness of the plight of those fleeing conflict and poverty, and with the full knowledge and consent of the local council – but they were fined €601 for 'demonstrating without written permission' from the provincial government.
Amnesty International says the majority of these fines were in response to behaviour or actions which are 'covered by the right to gathering, expression, and information'.
Many of the fines, which can range from €601 to €30,000, have been applied to demonstrations or protests in which there were no incidences of violence or disorderly behaviour, Amnesty International points out.
The organisation also calculates that nearly 19,500 fines have been dished out for 'lack of respect or consideration towards' officers.
These fines are applicable for arguing reasonably with an officer, for taking photographs of police in the course of duty, and some cases reported that ended in fines have included pictures of patrol cars parked in disabled bays or on yellow kerbs uploaded onto social media – or even, in at least one case in the Comunidad Valenciana, of members of the public speaking valenciano to officers and refusing to switch to Castilian Spanish when asked.
If all the fines had been paid, the government would have clawed back €3 million last year alone through the 'gagging law', says Amnesty International.
They say the 'gagging law' gives police forces 'licence to behave randomly', which ends up 'harming the rights to freedom of gathering, of speech and of information'.
“It's not acceptable that any old officer can demand your ID when you haven't done anything, and then fine you nine months later,” argued Amnesty International leader Esteban Beltrán.
Beltrán also says that the 32 fines levied for 'distribution of photographs of security forces and authority figures in the course of duty' is a form of censorship, since members of the public who may be affected by police malpractice are unable to take pictures to use as evidence.
Amnesty International has called for the 'gagging law' to be 'abolished completely', since it effectively punishes and fines people for actions which are perfectly legal under wider legislation, including European Union law.
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