Triste cumpleaños: Spanish 'gag laws' turn one
July 1st marked the one-year anniversary of the implementation of the rules known collectively as 'Gag Law' - 'Ley Mordaza' - in Spain, i.e. the Law on Protection of Citizen Security and the double reform of the Criminal Code.
This combination of legal reforms represents a major threat to the freedom of information and expression of journalists and social movements. The PDLI has been calling attention to this since the parliamentary process began. This opinion is shared by experts of the United Nations, NGOs such as Amnesty International, groups of lawyers, and almost the entirety of the opposition parties in Spain.
From these ‘gag laws’, the one that has had the most direct impact on journalism has been the Law on Protection of Citizen Security: At least four media professionals have been sanctioned so far, with fines of more than 600 euros each, whilst they were covering newsworthy events for their outlets.
Overall, 40,000 sanctions were imposed within seven months of this law's application, according to statistics from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In that time frame, 6,217 sanctions were processed for disrespecting the police, this being the second biggest cause for penalties. It entailed an average of 29.4 sanctions per day.
Moreover, 18 sanctions were imposed for the use of photos of police officers or of objects than can identify a member of the security forces; 71 were imposed for obstructing the authorities in complying with administrative resolutions; and 3,700 for disobedience or resistance to authorities or for refusal to show an ID document.
The main risk of this law (apart from its ambiguous reading, which allows for arbitrary interpretations) is that the sanctions are applied through administrative procedures, with no judicial intervention that can deliberate over a possible conflict of overlapping rights.
One of the most controversial articles is the one that considers as a serious offence “the non-authorised use of images or personal or professional data of authorities or members of the Spanish Forces and Security Bodies that can put the security of the officers or their families at risk”. Fines can amount to as much as 30,000 euros.
The first case that surfaced among media professionals was the one related to Axier López, photographer and correspondent for the magazine Argia. He was fined with 601 euros for tweeting photographs of the detention of an activist in Eibar.
Almost at the same time, it became known that the photographer Miguel Ángel Valdivielso from El Diario de Burgos was also fined for “disobedience, resistance to authority, [and] rejection to provide identification”. He had refused to delete photographs of a work accident that resulted in the death of a 24-year-old employee.
In mid-May, Mercè Alcocer, court reporter for Catalunya Ràdio, received a notification also for a fine of 601 euros. This was related to an alleged act of disobedience towards the authorities as she covered the declarations of the former president of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, and his wife, at the Spanish National High Court on 20 February.