Thousands of police took to the streets of Madrid, the Spanish capital, on Saturday. They demonstrate according to spanish media against government plans to reform a controversial 2015 security law, dubbed the “gag law” by critics. If Parliament approves the amendment, Spanish citizens will no longer be punished if they film or photograph police officers while working without permission. Under current law, this is considered “a serious crime” and carries heavy fines.
The reforms do not take police safety into account, the unions say. They fear reprisals against officers if someone is allowed to film them with impunity and distribute the footage online. “The reform the government is preparing will only benefit violent protesters and criminals,” Pablo Pérez, spokesperson for the national police union, told Reuters news agency.
Politicians from Spain’s three main opposition parties joined the protest on Saturday. Organizers expected 150,000 participants, but the government estimated the actual number at around 20,000.
Criticisms of human rights organizations
The law, introduced in 2015 by the then-conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, contains strict rules for protests, among others. In addition to incurring hefty fines for filming without officers’ permission, protest organizers face fines ranging from hundreds to thousands of euros if they fail to pre-register a protest or if the meeting escalates.
The provisions have been criticized for years by journalists, human rights organizations and the The United Nations. According to Human Rights Watch, the law violates freedom of expression and unfairly punishes “vulnerable groups”. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s left-wing government recognizes that the law needs to be revised and wants to “adapt it to a new era,” the spokesperson for the ruling socialist party PSOE told Reuters. The far left Unidas Podemos also advocates changes and says the law has caused “a lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.
And so the government comes up with plans to reform the law. In addition to lifting the ban on filming officers, those detained during protests should be able to be detained for two hours instead of six. If it is owned by the government, the amount of the fines will depend on the income of the suspects.
A special parliamentary committee will examine the bill on December 14. Police unions plan to take to the streets again that day. “They should leave the current law as it is,” said a Guardia Civil representative. Or, he told Reuters, adjust the law to be in line with the wishes of citizens and the police.
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