la Ley Mordaza: the Gag Law

Image from Amnesty international

by Zahra Iqbal

In my last article I wrote about Catalan independence and how politically turbulent Spain is. Again, rather naively, I thought that after the November elections things will calm down a little. Yet, every day I still see people protesting in city centre of Madrid. Whether it’s about pensions, the political situation in Latin America or climate change.

Spain is a very political place. A lot more than I ever could’ve imagined; we forget that until 1975 Spain was a dictatorship and therefore the Spanish were deprived of the right to vote from 1936 to 1977.

That’s only 42 years.

As I’ve been wandering around the winding streets of Madrid, I’ve seen a lot of people at protests with Sellotape on their mouths. After speaking to my Spanish friend, he explained that there’s a law in Spain that prevents freedom of speech: it’s called la Ley Mordaza (the Gag Law).

Image from ElPais.com

Officially, it’s called ‘la Ley de Protección de la Seguridad Ciudadana’ (the protection of citizen security law): if you are found violating this law you can be charged with a fine from 100 euros to 600,000. This law prevents protests that aren’t approved by the police, interrupting public events for a political cause (football games, religious ceremonies etc.), rallying a protest on social media, pointing lasers, photographing the police and not carrying your I.D at all times.

These rules all sound like they have been taken straight out of George Orwell’s 1984: controlling society, limiting freedom of speech and silencing people. But they expose the grip the Spanish government has over the citizens; for decades the Spanish were controlled by Franco and his dictatorship, and now, despite having a democracy, it appears as though the Spanish are still tied down by political shackles, but this time they are just harder to spot.

Amnesty International have reported that between 2016 and 2017 more than 40,000 people were charged with breaking the Gag Law for expressing themselves and fighting for what is right. Arrested for exercising a fundamental Human Right.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental Human Right.  Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that ‘everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference’ and that ‘everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds’.

As ‘the West’ and as Europe, we pride ourselves on our freedom of speech and liberty; the very premise of this blog is to talk about human rights issues from around the world.

The scariest thing is that Spain is very close to home; too close to home to still be having issues with freedom of speech, especially when it seems that nobody outside of Spain has even recognised that there are issues to begin with.

 

Study Abroad Columnist: Zahra Kiran Iqbal, 3rd Year BA English and Spanish Undergraduate. Currently studying abroad at Universidad Comillas Pontificia, Madrid. Former News Editor for the Gryphon and Former Web/ Publicity Secretary for Leeds Labour Students.