The first known individual to fall foul of Spain’s controversial new so-called “gag law” has spoken out against what he sees as the repression of free speech after he received a fine for describing his local police force as “slackers” on Facebook.
Eduardo Díaz, a 27-year-old salesman from Tenerife, told the newspaper El Mundo that the comment he posted on his mayor’s Facebook page about the decision to provide the local police force with a new and larger headquarters was “just a criticism, not an insult. I get the impression that they are trying to silence the voice of critical citizens”.
Spain’s Citizen Safety Law (Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana) came into effect on July 1st after the conservative Popular Party government used its parliamentary majority to pass the legislation in the face of harsh criticism from other parties and civil society groups. The law allows for stiff penalties of up to €600,000 (£424,000) for a variety of public order offences, such as unlicensed demonstrations outside a parliament building, inciting an unauthorised protest online and importantly for Mr Díaz, showing disrespect to the police.
In his Facebook comment, Mr Díaz criticised the use of public resources on a brand new police station in the town of Güímar, stating that the local force was a “pack of slackers”. But local police officers wasted no time in reacting, ringing Mr Díaz’s doorbell just hours later to present him with notification of a fine which will be set at between €100 and €600.
“I do not agree with insulting the police and would never show them disrespect. But as a citizen who pays his taxes, I believe that I have the right to express my opinion over a government decision”, said Mr Díaz, who added that he will continue to criticise the authorities on social media.
In addition the Citizen Safety Law imposes penalties on “the unauthorized use of images or personal or professional information” about police officers “that could endanger their personal safety or that of their families, of protected facilities or endanger the success of a police operation”. Amnesty International has complained about this, noting that journalists and other individuals private recordings have occasionally helped report the use of excessive force by the police.
The new law has been widely criticised across Spain, being labelled as draconian and repressive, and in Madrid a Romanian woman was handed a €600 fine under the new legislation for “an act of sexual provocation in a public place” after Spanish government agents caught her allegedly soliciting “in a state of undress” in an industrial estate on the outskirts of the capital.