Protesters marched in more than 30 cities across Spain on the eve the introduction of a controversial new Spanish “gag law” that will limit the right to demonstrate.
The new legislation came into force at midnight despite being denounced by international human rights’ groups, lawyers associations and journalists for muzzling freedom of speech.
Greenpeace demonstrators started off Tuesday’s protest by hanging a giant banner proclaiming “Protesting is a Right” over Spain’s parliament building, where protesting will be banned under the new law.
Protestors climbed a crane adjacent to the Congress to unveil their protest. Photo: Jessica Jones
The evening saw thousands of protesters take to the streets of Madrid and other cities to denounce the new law which will see fines of up to €30,000 ($33,000) for public disorder offences, including neighbourhood demonstrations against evictions.
The wide-ranging law allows for the summary expulsion of migrants caught illegally entering Spain's two North African enclaves.
It sets hefty fines for protests outside government buildings or strategic installations and allows authorities to fine journalists or media organizations who distribute unauthorized images of police.
Disrespecting a police officer could also be punishable by a fine of €600 while a fine of up to €600,000 ($638,000) could be levied for unauthorized protests near key infrastructure, including transportation hubs or nuclear power plants.
The law has been pushed through by the conservative Popular Party government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the wake of several years of mostly peaceful anti-austerity demonstrations.
Critics include the leading opposition Socialist Party that has said it will rescind the law if elected in general elections later this year; a panel of five United Nation human rights experts; and the Human Rights Watch advocacy group.
“They want all of us to be silent, for no one to protest,” said Juan Sánchez, a 21-year-old student, draped in a republican flag from before the civil war, a traditional symbol of the Spanish left, as he protested in Madrid.
“With the 'gag law' brought into force, the practice of journalism will be less free,” said the Madrid Press Association in a statement.