MADRID – One of the world’s foremost human rights organizations released on Thursday a report in which it decried how basic rights, including freedom of expression, are being eroded in Spain by prosecuting citizens under dubious pretexts such as fighting terror.
Amnesty International said in its annual survey on the state of the world’s human rights – which analyzed the situation in 159 countries – that in the case of Spain, people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly had been disproportionately curtailed; law enforcement had used excessive force against peaceful protesters, the country had relocated fewer asylum-seekers than it had pledged, thousands were forcefully evicted from their homes and authorities neglected to investigate crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and the regime of military dictator Francisco Franco (1939-1975).
“There is growing fear among Spaniards to take to the streets and reclaim their rights, due to the thousands of penalties imposed on individuals, activists and journalists,” said Esteban Beltran, the director of AI in Spain.
He explained that many were being prosecuted under the controversial 2015 citizen security law, popularly known as the “Gag Law,” which was unilaterally passed by the ruling right-wing Popular Party and is opposed by virtually all other political groups in the country, as it severely restricts public protests and bans the dissemination of images of police officers, among other measures.
“The arbitrarity used to apply sanctions, the discretion police operate with and the lack of mechanisms for the supervision of police activities is showing its consequences,” Beltran added, while stressing that this had caused trials and convictions to skyrocket.
AI said that, in 2017, dozens of people who had made comments about controversial song lyrics and jokes on social media such as Twitter, had been prosecuted for “glorification of terrorism” and “humiliation of victims.”
According to the report, Spanish authorities “pressed criminal charges against people who had expressed opinions that did not constitute incitement to a terrorism-related offense and fell within the permissible forms of expression under international human rights law.”
The human rights watchdog also condemned the excessive force used by police against thousands of demonstrators peacefully resisting the enforcement of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia’s ruling stopping the Catalan independence referendum on Oct. 1.
In addition, the report focused on some social rights, such as the right to housing: AI said that thousands of people were “forcibly evicted without adequate judicial safeguards or provision of alternative accommodation by the state,” including 26,767 rental evictions and 16,992 mortgage evictions.
The United Kingdom-based NGO regretted that Spain had failed to meet is commitment to relocate 15,888 asylum-seekers in 2017 under the European Union’s emergency relocation scheme, instead only relocating 1,328 by the end of the year; meanwhile, only 1,360 out of the 1,449 refugees from the Middle East and North Africa Spain had pledged to resettle actually were resettled.
AI lambasted the summary deportation to Morocco of sub-Saharan migrants attempting to cross into Spain through the North African enclave of Melilla, a practice known as “hot returns,” which the European Court of Human Rights ruled in October amounted to a collective expulsion of foreign nationals, a measure banned by international law.
The organization also noted the problem of gender-based violence in Spain, with 48 women and eight children being killed in 2017 by their partners or former partners.
During the report’s presentation in Madrid, Ignacio Robles – a firefighter working at the northern city of Bilbao’s port who had refused to cooperate in the shipment of tons of mortar shells sold to Saudi Arabia – said that his actions had taken a toll on his personal and professional life.
Robles was put on disciplinary notice by his employer, the provincial government of Vizcaya, for what he described as refusing to be “complicit in war crimes,” which he claimed has caused him stress, insomnia and severe weight loss.
“Every 10 minutes, a child under the age of five dies in Yemen, and I have two kids that age; I feel like crying when I see that kind of news,” Robles said. “My punishment came as a warning to all the workers who play a role in those shipments.”
Lastly, the report focused on the impunity with which the crimes against humanity committed during Franco’s iron-fisted dictatorship had been met by present-day Spanish authorities.
The government argued that it could not investigate the crimes – which included enforced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial executions – due to the 1977 Amnesty Law that protected Francoist officials from prosecution but offered no equivalent reprieve to those whom the dictatorship defeated.