Spanish riot police line up at night for a “manifestación” or protest. PHOTO: Flickr

If you are planning to travel from Britain to protests at the United Nations COP25 climate change conference in Madrid, which begins next week, it is important that you know about the Spanish state’s approach to freedom of assembly and in particular the extremely draconian Basic Law for the Protection of Public Security (Ley Orgánica para la Protección de la Seguridad Ciudadana), which was adopted in December 2014.

Known as the “Gag Law” by campaigners in Spain, it introduced new offences and administrative sanctions, some of which are very severe, targeting actions related to protests.

Individuals can face fines of up to €600 for organising public meetings and demonstrations or occupying a public space or building without prior notification, making spontaneous gatherings impossible no matter how non-violent they are. Those designated at “organisers” can include people speaking from a podium, giving out flyers or who carry flags or banners

The Gag Law also provides for fines of up to €30,000 for disseminating photographs of police officers and state security bodies that are deemed to endanger them or the success of their operations, which may restrict the documentation and reporting of abuses. Disobeying and resisting authorities, as well as refusing to disband meetings and demonstrations may also be fined up to €30,000, whilst showing disrespect for police officers could lead to fines of up to €600.

These are administrative procedures, not criminal ones. Foreigners are always obliged to carry their passports or ID with them at all times and if you are stopped on the street by the police and are asked to present your passport or ID, it is likely that within a month, you will receive a letter at the address that corresponds to it, outlining the administrative proceedings as well as the fine you face.

Once you receive your letter notifying you of your fine, you may appeal this decision (see the full briefing below for details on how to appeal).

Key Reminders

  • Say NO COMMENT to all police questions.
  • The police are allowed to legally detain you a maximum of 72 hours.
  • Netpol endorses Comisión Legal de la Acampada Sol for legal support.
  • Spain has potentially HUGE fines for protest and even for photographing the police.
  • Spanish police will usually attempt to break up gatherings, often without warning, so make sure you are prepared for police violence.

The police can also stop you if you are suspected of hiding anything that may have been, or could be, used in committing a crime and officers are allowed to undertake an ‘external, superficial’ physical search.

If you are arrested and taken into police custody, you will face a charge (there is no equivalent to police bail or “released under investigation” as there is in Britain) and a judge will decide whether to continue with the case or drop it.

The police are allowed to legally detain you a maximum of 72 hours, although this is rare for protests.

If you want your own lawyer, you need to know their name and two surnames – not their phone number (having two surnames is usual in Spain).

If you are arrested and taken into police custody, you also have the right as a foreigner to an interpreter and the right to notify your consulate.

Just as in Britain, campaigners recommend NO COMMENT: this includes at a police station, where the exception is giving you personal details (the police will have these anyway from your passport).

When you are seen by a judge, you may have conditions imposed for your release, such as the withdrawal of your passport (least likely if you are an EU citizen and a little more likely if you are not an EU citizen) or to report back to a court at agreed times.

Legal support is available from Comisión Legal de la Acampada Sol. Their email address is legal.sol.madrid@gmail.com and you should follow them on Twitter at @LegalSol

A more comprehensive legal briefing is available to download here [ODT]

For information on the British stop and search powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to interrogate activists travelling in and out of the country, see this post written by Netpol for the COP21 conference in Paris in 2015: https://netpol.org/2015/11/26/cop21-schedule-7/

Let Netpol know if you are stopped under Schedule 7 powers, either entering or leaving the country. You can find our contact details here.