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Spanish police protest in Madrid against ‘gag law’ reform

Thousands of police protested in Madrid on Saturday over plans to reform a controversial security law banning the unauthorised use of police images if it puts them in danger.

A demonstrator holds a placard reading
A demonstrator holds a placard reading "congress, resignation", during a demonstration called by police unions in Madrid, on November 27, 2021, to protest against proposed changes of a controversial security law known as "ley mordaza" (gag law). (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

The rally focused on plans by Spain’s left-wing government to change the citizen security law, known as the “gag law”, passed in 2015 under the previous right-wing administration at the height of the anti-austerity protests.

The reform bill aims to bring the law in line with a Constitutional Court ruling that authorisation to use images of police was “unconstitutional” because it amounted to “prior censorship”.

Waving Spanish flags and union banners, the protesters, accompanied by senior right-wing politicians, marched to the interior ministry in a rally called by Jusapol, an umbrella organisation from which emerged the police and Guardia Civil unions.

They say such reform would remove protection from police and security forces, endanger public security and reduce operational ability to stop violent demonstrations.

READ ALSO: Spain’s gag law slammed in press freedom report

“We say no to this reform. We believe the law must be adapted to current times and must be reformed, but we must never trample the rights of those responsible for security who work with this law every day,” Jusapol president Miguel Ángel Gómez told reporters.

Demonstrators wave flares as they take part in a demonstration called by police unions in Madrid. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Speaking at the march, opposition leader Pablo Casado, who heads the right-wing Popular Party, said he fully supported the protesters’ demands.

“Every day four police officers are assaulted and this is absolutely intolerable,” said Casado, urging Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez “to listen to the street and to the thousands of police who have risked their lives to defend Spanish democracy and freedom.”

“It is extraordinary that for the first time in our democracy, those who risk their lives to protect us have to demonstrate because they are left unprotected,” he said earlier.

ANALYSIS: “Spain’s freedom of speech repression is no joke”

Other right-wing politicians also joined the march, among them Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox party and Ines Arrimadas, head of the centre-right Ciudadanos party.

“Basically, what this law does is to remove protection from the police and criminalise them, casting doubt on them and favouring those attacking them,” said Arrimadas.

Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

“We are tired of the fact that in Spain criminals have more protection than the police and those who obey the law.”

Under the current law, the unauthorised use of images of police officers that could endanger their safety is a serious offence, with offenders risking fines of €600 to €10,400.

The reforms also propose changes to the fines, which would be proportional to the offenders’ income, as well as to riot control equipment with possibly the least harmful means to be used. 

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CRIME

Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

Spanish police have begun wearing body cameras to record their interactions with the public in a move aimed at ensuring greater security that is gaining ground in Europe and the US.

Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

The interior ministry said the bodycam was launched Monday and would be “rolled out on a gradual basis to all police officers”, without saying how many were involved in the initial stages.

Spain’s TVE public television said the tiny cameras were being attached to the officers’ uniforms and could be activated either manually or automatically.

The main Spanish police union JUPOL hailed the move on Twitter, saying it was in response to “a request that the union has been making”.

“It will guarantee security, both for us to avoid any kind of misrepresentation of our interventions, as well as for the public, who will be able to clearly see the police’s professionalism and that there is no abuse of power nor excesses,” union spokesman Pablo Pérez told TVE.

Forces in Europe and the United States are increasingly turning to such technology to boost transparency following a string of fatal shootings and other claims against police over the past decade.

“The cameras are being used under public safety protocols in order to record everything that happens in the event of an unwarranted offence during an operation,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska told TVE ahead of the rollout.

“If they are activated, it is to guarantee security and really be transparent so that the officers’ actions can be seen and checked,” the minister said.

“This means security for both the police and the public,” he added, suggesting that in time, they would also be available to Spain’s Guardia Civil rural police force.

France began trialling bodycams, known as “pedestrian cameras”, in 2013
before a gradual rollout in 2015 in a move welcomed by police, but greeted with scepticism by rights groups who said there was no guarantee they would be always activated.

Police in London and New York also began pilot schemes in 2014 with credit-card-sized cameras clipped onto their uniforms with the technology gradually deployed over the following years.

But the cameras have had mixed success. The absence of any legal obligation governing their use can also limit their scope to uncover police misconduct.

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