Thousands of protesters spilt onto the streets of Barcelona, Spain, yesterday as news of the prison sentences for Catalonia’s separatist leaders spread.
But for those who have been watching Spain’s responses to those who critic or protest against the government over the past few years, the harsh prison sentences will have been less of a surprise.
Strange things have been happening in Spain and few outsiders have been taking notice.
There was the case of the Spanish comedian Dani Mateo who described a monument to former dictator General Francisco Franco as “shit” on a satirical television show and then was accused of “hurting religious feelings” and called before a judge to explain.
Then there were the two puppeteers who were charged after one of the puppets in their Punch and Judy show carried a sign for a made-up terrorist group. The puppeteers were unable to leave the country for weeks, receiving anonymous threats and having to report regularly to the police.
There’s Facu Díaz, who was prosecuted for posting jokes on social media; Cassandra Vera, who was sentenced to a year in prison for making jokes about a former Spanish president; and three women who were accused of a religious hate crime for mocking a traditional Easter procession.
Many of these charges relate to the citizen security law, passed in 2015, which allows the prosecution of journalists for reporting police interventions. Here we have an attack on the right of the public to know what is happening in their own country. That law was passed in parliament with the votes of the conservative Partido Popular, but with no support from other parties.
The 2015 reforms created a range of terrorism offences, but have also been used in the way of security laws throughout the ages to prosecute people that the government didn’t want to speak.
In a piece published in Index on Censorship magazine, Virginia Álvarez of Amnesty International said: “This is not preventing terrorism crimes but allowing the state to act against humorous comments,” she said. “Governments are using the insecurity caused by terrorism to curb freedoms and deactivate social movements.”
For more on how Spain has been cracking down on protest, also read No laughing matter by Silvia Nortes for Index.