Spain moves to protect whistleblowers

Spanish lawmakers on Thursday approved draft legislation to protect anyone who exposes serious offences or corruption cases in the public or private sector in line with a 2019 European directive.

whistleblowers spain law
The bill also sets up an external alert system for whistleblowers by creating an "independent authority for the protection of informants". (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Justice Minister Pilar Llop hailed the bill in parliament as “a very important text for the prevention of corruption and the fight against it”.

The bill, which now goes to the senate, seeks “to protect anyone who in any employment or professional context identifies and exposes serious criminal or administrative offences”.

It also includes an obligation to create an “internal reporting system” for exposing crimes that guarantees confidentiality and allows for the whistleblowers to remain anonymous.

The system must be put in place in companies with more than 50 employees as well as in public entities, political parties, unions and organisations that receive public funding.

The bill also sets up an external alert system for whistleblowers by creating an “independent authority for the protection of informants”.

It also includes legal measures to protect citizens who report crimes as well as journalists and their sources.

Such tools aim to protect whistleblowers from “unacceptable” consequences such as “contract terminations, intimidation, unfair conduct and reputational damage”.

The text also states that contractual confidentiality clauses should be rendered null and void if they restrict the right or capacity to report serious offences.

The text is in line with rules adopted by the EU in 2019 to protect whistleblowers from reprisals to ensure they are not singled out for retaliation for exposing alleged wrongdoing affecting the public.

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Spanish government under attack over undercover police tactics

The Spanish government is under fire over allegations police officers infiltrated far-left and green groups and had sex with activists to win their trust and gain information.

Spanish government under attack over undercover police tactics

The scandal broke when Catalan media La Directa reported in January that a police officer going by the name of Daniel Hernández had sexual relations with various members of a Barcelona squat and far-left movements since 2020.

The intimate relations in one case lasted nearly a year, according to the alternative publication based in the Catalan capital.

Six women have filed a complaint against the officer, accusing him of sexual abuse. They argue their sexual consent was obtained on the basis of lies.

One of the women’s lawyers, Mireia Salazar, told AFP the goal of the complaint was “to know how far these practices go, which in our opinion, have no legal justification.”

The scandal deepened after the Madrid branch of climate activist group Extinction Rebellion said last week it had been infiltrated by a female police officer who “had sexual relations with at least one of its members”.

The affair recalls the case in Britain of Kate Wilson, an environmental activist who was tricked into a sexual relationship with an undercover officer for nearly two years.

In a landmark ruling in 2021, a tribunal concluded that the police had violated her human rights.

‘Moral limit?’

In Spain, the Hernández case has sparked outrage, especially in the northeastern region of Catalonia which sparked the country’s worst political crisis in decades in 2017 with a failed independence push.

It comes after Spain’s central government admitted last year that it spied on the mobile phones of 18 Catalan separatist leaders using Israeli spyware Pegasus.

READ ALSO: Spain needs more transparency over Pegasus: EU lawmakers

“Where is your moral limit, where is your ethical limit?” Gabriel Rufián, a top lawmaker with Catalan separatist party ERC, asked Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez last month during a debate in the assembly.

“It is not just a threat to political freedoms, ideological freedoms, but also – it seems – sexual freedoms”, he added in a reference to the case of the undercover Barcelona police officer.

Sánchez’s minority leftist coalition government regularly relies on the ERC to pass legislation in parliament.

Criticism has also come from far-left party Podemos, the junior coalition partners of Sánchez’s Socialists.

“It is violence against women,” secretary of state of equality, Angela Rodríguez of Podemos, told Catalan radio station Rac1. “And I think that the sooner that we know what happened and justice can be
done, the better it will be for the reputation of security agencies,” she added.

‘It was a shock’

The scandal comes as Sánchez’s government grapples with waning support ahead of regional elections in May and a year-end general election.

Contacted by AFP, both the interior ministry and the police declined to comment on the allegations. But during a recent debate in parliament, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska dismissed the ERC’s accusations of “illegal activities” by police as “a lie”.

Undercover police also reportedly infiltrated a far-left group in the Mediterranean port of Valencia, and a Barcelona housing rights group called “Resistim al Gotic”, although in these cases there are no allegations of improper sexual relations.

According to La Directa, a police officer calling himself Marc Hernández pretended to be a “Resistim al Gotic” activist for nearly two years before the publication unmasked him in June.

“When the information was revealed, it was a shock,” Martí Cusó, a member of the group, told AFP. “We did not suspect anything, we had no clues that his person could be a police officer,” he added.