Public Safety Act or Gag Law – Julieta Barragán Sosa, Spain

Democracy is a concept that widely holds currency today, but what do we really mean when we talk about it? Democracy in its most basic sense is a political system which involves not only elected government and accessible social structure but also values, principles, attitudes and policies. The fundamental ideals of democracy are freedom and justice.

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After reading this definition any Spaniard would be justified in questioning the words freedom and justice. In fact, the present right-wing Spanish government has just implemented a new law: the Public Safety Act, popularly known as the Gag Law.

This law aims to, “protect the free exercise of rights and freedoms and ensure public safety”, which is the mission of security and police forces under the jurisdiction of the government. But while they are protecting us, as citizens of a democracy, we have been banned from demonstrating near the buildings of Congress and the Senate, relaxing evictions, peaceful resistance and sittings (the new regulation gives the police the ability to fine anyone who refuses to dissolve these meetings). Not only that, but photographing and recording police personnel has also been banned, which is considered a controversial measure as citizen documentation has on several occasions captured police abuse and served as evidence for the conviction of officers.

Additionally, we must also talk about a section that seems to be referring to movements such as those started by Greenpeace: officers have the right to fine those who participate in “the scaling of buildings or monuments without authorization when there is a risk of damage to persons or property incurred”, but, who decides when there is a real risk?

“This article seems to have been specifically drafted to prohibit and prosecute public events that Greenpeace made based on the right of freedom of expression,” the organisation says in a report prepared against the laws adopted by the PP (Partido Popular, a right wing party in the government).

The government claims that the Public Safety Act serves to “ensure an environment of coexistence in which the exercise of rights and freedoms is possible, by eliminating violence and removing obstacles hindering the fullness of those”.

However, all opposition groups voted against this law, it is under appeal in the Constitutional Court, and the PSOE (the left-wing Spanish Socialist Workers Party) has promised to repeal it if it comes to power.

All the while, Spaniards will continue to question why the fundamental ideals of democracy, freedom, and justice evade them.

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