KINGDOM OF SPAIN: Two-pronged assault targets rights and freedoms of Spanish citizens, migrants and refugees

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2 Apr 2015
[International Secretariat]

Draconian reforms to two pieces of Spanish legislation are an assault on the rights of its citizens as well as an attempt to formalize abusive practices against migrants and refugees, said Amnesty International ahead of a vote in parliament this afternoon.

A double whammy of proposed reforms to the Criminal Code and the Law on Public Security will restrict rights to peaceful assembly, association and freedom of expression. It will also introduce new anti-terror measures and legalize the unlawful push-back of migrants and refugees from Spain’s enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa to Morocco.

“Today is a dark day for Spain with these reforms representing a multi-pronged attack on a raft of rights,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe.

‘Legalizing’ unlawful push backs of migrants and refugees

The new amendment to Spain’s immigration law contained in the Law on Public Security will come into immediate effect. It will legalize the automatic and collective expulsion of migrants and refugees from the borders of Ceuta and Melilla by introducing a new administrative practice dubbed “border rejections”.

Summary returns of migrants and refugees back to Morocco without formal procedure denies them access to the asylum procedure in Spain and exposes them to the real risk of human rights violations upon return.

An assurance contained in the amendment that the border rejections “will be carried out in compliance with international human rights and international protection norms” rings hollow. The amendment fails to describe how the rights of those trying to cross the border will be upheld during these rejections.

Anti-terror laws

Proposed reforms to the Spanish Criminal Code expand the range of crimes defined as “terrorism” using vague language and overly broad categories of offences.
Suspected travel, or planned to travel, outside Spain to collaborate with militant groups or to train with them, even if no such training occurs or no criminal act is committed, will be outlawed.

Making a statement on social media that could be “perceived” as inciting others to commit violent attacks will be outlawed, even if the statement cannot be directly linked to an act of violence.

These restrictions threaten the rights to freedom of expression and association, the presumption of innocence, freedom of movement, the right to privacy, and the right to leave and return to one’s country.

“If we have learned anything over recent years, it is that governments’ excessive reactions to violent attacks can lead to unnecessary and abusive laws and practices,” said Gauri van Gulik.

“Spain must heed that lesson and ensure that any new measures are absolutely necessary and proportionate, clearly aim to keep people safe, and uphold human rights in the process. The proposed reforms do not meet these tests.”

Restricting protest, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly

The Public Security Law’s new offences unduly restrict the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, criminalizing some legitimate forms of protest and increasing penalties for others.
The new provisions contain limitations on where and when demonstrations can take place, including a ban on “spontaneous assemblies” in certain places and fines for those who organize them.
Police officers will be given broad discretion without procedural safeguards to fine people who show a “lack of respect” towards them. Likewise a “gag law” restricts the video recording of police with fines of up to 30,000€ imposed on those who disseminate footage. In recent years, footage recorded during public demonstrations has been essential to prove excessive use of force and other abuses by police during policing of demonstrations.
The vague definition of new or amended offences means that they could be applied to conduct that is protected under international human rights law. In this sense, the new legislation breaches the requirement of legal certainty, namely that laws should be formulated with sufficient precision.

26 March 2015

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