Greenpeace activists climbed atop a construction crane located near Spanish Congress in Madrid early Tuesday morning and unfurled a 32-meter banner reading “La protesta es un derecho” (Protesting is a right).
The group’s action took place a day before Spain’s controversial Citizen Safety Law, which introduces tougher new controls on public demonstrations, was due to go into effect across the country.
This law lacks any justification, since there are no serious citizen security concerns in Spain” Greenpeace spokesman Miguel Ángel Soto
The environmental organization used Twitter to share photographs of two activists atop the crane, and of another standing near the door of the lower house holding a sign that read Sin mordazas (Without gags) – a reference to the fact that opponents of the legislation have nicknamed it the “gag law.”
Greenpeace, which is asking people to join a street demonstration against the law at 7.30pm on Tuesday, believes the legislation will penalize the kind of peaceful protest outside public buildings that has become a hallmark of the environmental organization’s public campaigning.
“This law lacks any justification, since there are no serious citizen security concerns in Spain,” said Greenpeace spokesman Miguel Ángel Soto in a statement. In his opinion, this law “was thought up to silence, through fines, the voices that criticize the way the government is running the country and the consequences of the social, environmental and economic crisis resulting from corruption, social cuts, undermined rights and the privatization of public services.”
Greenpeace claims that some of the new penalties seem tailor-made for specific forms of peaceful protest in Spain, such as those staged by anti-eviction activists, labor unions and victims of preferred share schemes, which “in no case pose a danger to the security of citizens.”
“In practice, the new law establishes serious limits on freedom of expression and information, and on freedom of assembly,” said Greenpeace in its release. “This violates the international human rights obligations entered into by the Spanish state.”
“Starting tomorrow, it will be the state’s law enforcement agencies and the Interior Ministry who decide how we should exercise our freedom of expression and assembly,” said Soto.
A toned-down version
First introduced in November 2013, the bill was immediately described as a tailor-made tool for the governing Popular Party (PP) to quell public displays of social unrest over the government's handling of the economic crisis and rampant political corruption.
The original draft of the Citizen Safety Law included heavy fines for street protestors who carried signs "harmful to Spain or the regions," and granted private security guards the right to help the police break up demonstrations. Protesting in front of Congress, the Senate or regional assemblies was considered a serious offense.
But the outcry from other political parties, civil society and even top legislative bodies forced the PP to review the bill and tone down its harsher aspects to ensure they complied with the Spanish Constitution.
Although the resulting bill lost a lot of the focus on police action that defined the original text, the opposition still feels it goes too far.