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Protesters vow to fight Spain's controversial 'gag laws'

Activists in Spain are drumming up support to fight a series of controversial laws aimed at curbing protests in the country. The UN and human rights groups say the laws violate fundamental rights and freedoms.

The Spanish government has introduced a series of tough laws that include hefty fines of up to 30,000 euros ($32,000) for people protesting near parliament and regional lawmaking buildings when there is a "serious disturbance of public safety."

If people stage unauthorized protests close to key infrastructure - which includes spots such as transportation hubs and nuclear power plants - they can be hit with a fine of 600,000 euros.

Human rights activists in Spain and elsewhere have slammed the public security laws as an attack on Spaniards' fundamental rights in an attempt to silence voices critical of the government.

Spain's ruling conservative Popular Party passed the bills in both houses of parliament at the end of March; the bills are to come into effect on July 1. They may, however, still be challenged nationally or at European level.

"It's the biggest restriction of freedom and rights in Spain [since] the Franco dictatorship," said Carlos Escana, spokesperson of No Somos Delito (which translates to "We Are Not Crime"), an umbrella organization of more than a hundred organizations and civil society movements, which staged a protest against the laws.

'Gag laws against democracy'

"These Leyes Mordaza, these gag laws, are against democracy," he told DW, adding that it was a dangerous precedent for a country which is democratic in principle to move toward authoritarian practices.

"We don't accept any kind of law that [throws] us back to authoritarian times," he said.

No Somos Delito staged the world's first ever

virtual political demonstration

on the weekend as thousands of holograms showed up in front of Spain's lower house of parliament.

"Ultimately, if you are a person, you won't be allowed to express yourself freely," said a woman in a protest video before turning into a hologram. "You will only be able to do it if you become a hologram."

Hologram protest in Spain (photo: No Somos Delito)

They are there and yet they aren't - protesters, or rather their holograms, took to the streets

According to a Metroscopia poll, more than 80 percent of Spaniards are in favor of softening the laws or scrapping them altogether.

The government insists the laws are necessary for more effective security by eliminating violent protests.

The only reason this law was introduced was to muzzle political protests, Escana said.

'Violation of right to assembly'

A group of United Nations human rights experts had already expressed concern before the law was passed by parliament, argueing the text contained "broad or ambiguous definitions that pave the way for a disproportionate or discretionary enforcement of the law by authorities."

"The so-called 'gag law' violates the very essence of the right to assembly since it penalizes a wide range of actions and behaviors that are essential for the exercise of this fundamental right, thus sharply limiting its exercise," Maina Kiai, UN special expert on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, said in a statement.

"Our goal is that the government revokes the law," said No Somos Delito's Escana, adding that they were trying to mobilize even more people to protest and make their voices heard before elections in May.

"We are trying to create a democratic culture, to make people [aware of the fact] it's also their responsibility to defend democracy. And now democracy is in danger in Spain."

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