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SPANISH POLITICS

Far-right Vox leads mass protests against Spain’s government

Tens of thousands of supporters from Spain's far-right Vox party demonstrated nationwide on Sunday to protest Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's leftist government.

Far-right Vox leads mass protests against Spain's government
Supporters of far-right party Vox Santiago Abascal (unseen) gather during an anti-government protest in Madrid, on November 27, 2022. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

Police said 25,000 people gathered in central Madrid’s Colon Square, where protesters unfurled flags and called on Sánchez to go, while demonstrations also took place in cities across Spain.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal denounced a “government of treason, insecurity and ruin” after recent changes to the criminal code and the approval of a new law against sexual violence.

READ MORE: Why Spain’s right is vehemently opposed to changes to sedition law

He lambasted the planned abolition of the crime of sedition, of which nine separatist leaders were convicted over their role in the Catalonia region’s abortive secession bid in 2017. An offence carrying a lower prison sentence will replace it.

“We have a government that governs against the people, lowers prison sentences for crimes, disarms the police,” Abascal told his followers in the Spanish capital.

The right believes the modified criminal code, which should be in place by the end of the year, will encourage further attempts to separate the northeastern Catalonia region from Spain.

“We are being governed by separatists, people who don’t want to be Spanish, that’s why I’m here,” said protester Cesar Peinado, a 65-year-old retired truck driver, accusing the government of “buying votes”.

Abascal said sexual assaults had doubled since Socialist premier Sánchez took power in 2018 and denounced a law he claimed allowed rapists and paedophiles to leave prison earlier.

READ MORE: Why is Spain reducing prison sentences for rapists?

He was referring to a flagship government law against sexual violence that toughened penalties for rape but eased sentences for other sexual crimes, setting some convicts free after their jail terms were reduced.

Supporters of far-right party Vox Santiago Abascal (unseen) hold a placard reading “liar, elections now” as they gather during an anti-government protest in Madrid, on November 27th 2022. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

María Dolores López, 58, told AFP she could “no longer put up with what this government is doing”, citing its policy towards the Catalan separatists and its law against sexual violence.

“It isn’t a coincidence that there’s no security either,” Abascal added, denouncing “a crazy minister who makes a law with the approval of the entire government, the political and media left so that rapists and paedophiles end up on the streets”.

The ruling left-wing coalition has long drawn the ire of the right and far right for initiating a dialogue with Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders, with large protests taking place in 2019 and 2021 over the talks.

Lacking a parliamentary majority, Sánchez’s government has been forced since its formation to negotiate with Basque and Catalan separatists to pass bills.

The coalition says sedition is an antiquated offence that should be replaced with one better aligned to European norms.

The nine Catalan separatists initially sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison under the sedition law were pardoned last year, also infuriating the right.

The failed independence bid sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, with then-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and several others fleeing abroad to escape prosecution.

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POLITICS

Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes

Spain's leftwing government said Monday it was looking to modify a landmark law to fight sexual violence to close a loophole that has let some convicted offenders reduce their sentences.

Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes

Since the law came into force in October, around 20 offenders have reportedly been released and 300 others have seen their sentences reduced.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party has announced plans to reform the law.

“In the coming days, we will present a draft bill, a meticulous text that will provide a response and a solution to these undesired effects which we obviously don’t want to see repeated in the future,” said Education Minister Pilar Alegria, who is also party spokeswoman.

“Logically, the best way to specifically address these undesired effects would be to increase the penalties for sexual offenders,” she told reporters.

READ ALSO – ‘Only yes means yes’: Spain tightens sexual consent law

The controversy erupted barely six weeks after the entry into force of the “Only yes means yes” law, which reformed the criminal code in a bid to define all non-consensual sex as rape.

The overall aim of the law was to shift the focus in cases of sexual violence from the victims’ resistance to a women’s free and clearly expressed consent.

To this end, the charge of sexual abuse was dropped and everything was grouped under sexual assault. The range of penalties was widened to include all possibilities under that single term.

READ ALSO: How Spain is trying to fix its new trouble-ridden sexual consent law

The law effectively reduces the minimum and the maximum punishment in certain specific cases and hundreds have applied to have their sentences revised.

‘Consent must remain at the centre’

Over the weekend, reports that the government was mulling changes to the law prompted tensions between the ruling Socialists and their hard-left junior coalition partner Podemos, which has championed the legislation.

The right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) had quickly moved to offer parliamentary support if the Socialists wanted to push through the changes without Podemos.

But Podemos reacted angrily. Equality Minister Irene Montero warned that such a move would mean the law reverting to its original format and she vowed to do “whatever necessary” to ensure consent was kept at the centre.

Her stance was hammered home by party leader Ione Belarra on Monday morning. “Consent has to remain at the heart of the criminal code. We can’t go back to the evidentiary ordeal of proving we resisted enough or that we hadn’t been drinking,” tweeted Belarra, the social rights minister.

Socialist ministers insisted the planned changes would merely address the loopholes and would not touch the issue of consent.

“The correction and modification of the law is designed to avoid any undesired outcomes in the future and the issue of consent will remain at the centre of the law against sexual assault so that women avoid enduring the ordeal of proof in court,” cabinet minister Felix Bolanos, a close Sánchez aide, told reporters.

Until now, rape victims had needed to prove they were subjected to violence or intimidation. Without that, the offence was considered “sexual abuse” and carried lighter penalties than rape.

With “sexual abuse” dropped from the reformed criminal code and a much wider range of offences grouped under “sexual assault”, a broader range of penalties was required to ensure proportionality.

At the weekend, Montero said it was only a “minority” of judges who had applied the law incorrectly.

She said there were similar teething problems with Spain’s landmark 2004 domestic violence legislation, the first in Europe, which faced “almost 200 questions” about its legality in the first years after it was passed.

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