Activists mount hologram protest against Spain’s “gag” law

High-tech demonstration brings together 2,000 virtual protestors outside Congress

Some of the holograms projected on to Congress on Sunday.
Some of the holograms projected on to Congress on Sunday.KIKE PARA

Kate Moss is probably the last person anybody would have expected to inspire a political protest anywhere, and much less in Madrid. But a 2005 Paris fashion show by Alexander McQueen that projected a hologram of the British supermodel on the catwalk inspired a unique initiative in the Spanish capital to highlight widespread public opposition to the new Citizen Safety Law, which, among other regulations, imposes a ban on demonstrating outside Congress.

To get round the ban, and to make their point, on Sunday evening between 9pm and 10.30pm the activist group No Somos Delito (We’re not a crime), projected more than 2,000 holograms that civil rights organizations, artists and others from around the world had created and sent in to hologramasporlalibertad.org on to the columned portico of the Spanish parliament. To prevent the authorities stepping in to prevent the virtual protest, the organizers did not reveal the location of their event until shortly beforehand, using the social networks to do so.

From now on, the only way to demonstrate in Spain will be through holograms” Carlos Escaño, spokesman for No Somos Delitos

“This law represents a serious step backward in Spain’s democratic process by limiting fundamental rights of expression and freedom of association,” says Carlos Escaño, a spokesman for No Somos Delitos, which has attracted the support of more than 100 civil society organizations and NGOs in Spain. The organization says the Spanish Interior Ministry’s own figures show that only 1 percent of the 87,000 demonstrations staged in Spain in the last two years have seen incidents.

In March, the Popular Party government led by Mariano Rajoy overhauled the penal code, making changes to the Citizen Safety Law, which it rammed through Congress using its overall majority. Dubbed “the gag law” by the opposition, the legislation includes fines of up to €600,000 for unauthorized protests that turn violent inside or outside Spain’s upper or lower houses. Among other measures are fines of up to €30,000 for protestors who cover their faces at demonstrations, while slogans deemed by the police to be “offensive” against Spain or its regions could be subject to similar sanctions.

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The law has been widely rejected by Spaniards: a poll carried out by Metroscopia showed that 82 percent of people surveyed wanted it revoked or significantly changed. “From now on, the only way to demonstrate in Spain will be through holograms,” says Escaño. “This is an atrocity. A homeless person can be fined €600 for sleeping in the street.” But he says the law is chiefly aimed at limiting street protests, particularly demonstrations to prevent evictions. Protestors face individual fines of between €6,000 and €30,000.

“The aim of the law is to stop the social protest that was unleashed by the 15-M movement,” he says, referring to the street demonstrations that swept Spain in the summer of 2011 and gave birth to the anti-austerity Podemos party, which is running neck and neck with the Socialists and the Popular Party in the opinion polls. The new law also allows police to immediately hand over migrants who have succeeded in climbing over border fences into Spain’s North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla back to Moroccan authorities, a policy that has been criticized by the EU. It will now also be illegal for the public to film police officers during demonstrations.

“Banning protests outside a parliament is a disproportionate restriction of the right of assembly; this is what the UN’s special rapporteur has said,” says Alba Villanueva of No Somos Delito. She explains that the organization chose to project holograms on the Congress building to highlight “the surrealist future that we face if we want to demonstrate. It is not true that people want more security measures. Opinion polls show that this issue is 12th on most people’s list of concerns, way behind health, education, unemployment, the economic situation, and corruption.”