On Wednesday of this week, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, who is the Spanish Interior Minister announced in Congress that a reform of the penal code is being planned to criminalize the organizers of street protests that "seriously disturb the public peace".
reports that this announcement follows the events of March 29, when a major strike and protests occurred countrywide against changes to the labor laws of Spain. The strike was marred by clashes between police and protesters, who threw missiles at businesses including banks and in Barcelona, protesters vandalized the Barcelona Stock Exchange. A Starbucks café was burned during the protests when police started using tear gas and firing rubber bullets and the protests got out of control.
A recent Digital Journal
article reported on the subject and also gave reasons for the protests.
Diaz said that under the new reform "serious disturbances of public order and intent to organise violent demonstrations through means such as social networking" would carry the same penalty as involvement in a criminal organization.
Under the new laws anyone found guilty of instigating and performing violent acts of protest will be subject to a minimum jail term of 2 years.
However, it is feared that these new measures could also be used to stem the peaceful protests that have been ongoing since May 15 last year, involving the "indignado movement" or 15m. These protests started with tens of thousands of protesters camping out in public squares all over Spain. While these particular protests are peaceful in nature, the laws could also possibly be applied to them.
There has been comparison among the peaceful protesters to the fascist dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, the totalitarian head of state of Spain from October 1936 until his death in November 1975.
Diaz also said that the measures would extend powers of the authorities to deal with passive resistance as contempt of court.
He stated in congress that the measures will make it "an offence to breach authority using mass active or passive resistance against security forces and to include as a crime of assault any threatening or intimidating behavior."
Referring to the disruption of public services by the union strikers, such as transportation, he said that this would also be a made a crime. The strikers had blockaded train and bus stations to try and bring transportation to a halt, so that people could not get to work.
In a later statement Diaz said: "New measures are needed to combat the spiral of violence practised by 'anti-system' groups using urban guerrilla warfare."
In another measure, Felip Puig, the Minister of the Interior of the regional government of Catalonia, Spain, also called for measures to limit "social assemblies".
The planned legislation
also echoes the growing determination by European governments to punish those using instant messaging and social media to co-ordinate and plan street protests. In the United Kingdom, the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, which was set up to investigate last year's rioting in London, concluded that social media had a large part to play in organizing and inciting violence.
Plans are already in place for protests against the new forms of the penal code on Saturday.