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  • Demonstrators gather and shout slogans in Madrid

    Demonstrators gather and shout slogans in Madrid's famous landmark Puerta del Sol, against politicians, bankers and authorities' handling of the economic crisis May 18, 2011. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 May 2018

The Gag Law and the Operation Spiders are part of new government mechanisms to silence critical voices and social unrest.

Today seven years ago, thousands took the streets of Spain protesting austerity measures, high unemployment rates, corruption, in what was dubbed as the 15M or the Indignados Movement, which lasted several months and faced fierce state repression.

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People in different regions of Spain are gathering in the streets today to mark the anniversary of the movement. At the event in Madrid, people will meet at the Puerta del Sol “The Sun's Gate”, but the previous march and the concert planned had to be cancelled due to bureaucratic problems with the government's permits.

But despite the obstacles placed by the Spanish government, the demonstration and people's assembly will take place, even though not as originally planned.

This year's demonstration and people's assembly will be centered around “rights and freedoms,” as the Spanish state has increased restrictions on freedom of speech and social protests, reducing tolerance for critical voices.

In 2014, the Spanish Civil Guard began the “Operation Spider,” a national crackdown aiming at social media users critical of the government, selecting posts that, in their opinion, praised terrorism, especially on Twitter and Facebook. There have been four editions of the operation, all targeting leftist critics, including normal social media users and public figures.

 

“Seven years after that #15M that put the regime at stake and taught us that together, with organization and mutual support, things can be changed, the spirit is still alive, we keep saying that 'they DON'T represent us' and we keep creating spaces for convergence and struggle. #Happy15M”

Accompanying these operations comes the Ley Mordaza (“Gag Law”), approved in 2015, which critics say is aimed at criminalizing social protest, prohibiting demonstrations that may block roads or those in front of congresses or government buildings. It also prohibits taking pictures of security authorities oo using their image without consent, which represents a major problem for journalists working in the region and basically anyone with a camera passing by a demonstration.

The rapper known as Valtonyc was one of the artists scheduled for the event before the concert was canceled by organizers. The rapper would have addressed a public fed up with repression and an increasing right-wing turn by the government, just days before he starts serving his three and a half years sentence in prison, accused of praising terrorism and disrespecting the monarchy in his lyrics.

The National Audience decided to sentence Valtonyc due to its critical lyrics, claiming they praise the Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA) and First of October Antifascist Resistance Groups (GRAPO), their violent means and not their political ideas. Both groups are considered to be terrorist organizations by the Spanish state.

Valtonyc's sentence is part of an operation directed at silencing critical voices against the current government, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the right-wing nationalist People's Party (PP), in cultural production and social media.

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The Catalan rapper Pablo Hasel is another victim of these operations. The National Audience sentenced him to two years and one day in prison for glorifying terrorism, aggravated recidivism, and insults and slander against the Spanish monarchy and state institutions, just as in Valtonyc's case.

A fine of almost US$30,000 was also handed down to the performing artist, according to El Diario.

Judges released a statement saying the ruling was based on Hasel's lyrics and other statements "directed against the authority of the state" which allude "to the need to increase violent behavior, even resorting to the use of terrorism."

Hasel told the court: "Freedom of speech limits are always for the same: the anti-fascists. My mistake is not being a fascist that hopes to bomb Catalans or homosexuals.”

His statement is anything but far from reality. Public figures or social media users that express themselves in violent manners but represent an opinion closer to that of the ruling party usually don't get any reprisal for their comments.

Radio host Federico Jimenez Losantos has multiple times suggested a violent solution for the social unrest in Catalonia. When the German government decided to release the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, Losantos said it would be necessary to take Germans as hostages and put bombs in Bavaria in response. Now, he has criticized Rajoy's government for not being strong enough on the Catalonia issue, saying that Spain has enough “planes to bombard” the autonomous region.

“The Nazional Audience gives Jimenez Losantos 10 days to go into prison.

Oh no, it's me.”

Also, professional puppeteers Alfonso Lázaro de la Fuente and Raúl García Pérez were arrested and imprisoned for a controversial play in which one of the puppets held a sign reading “Gola Alka-ETA” (“Up with Alka-ETA”), a nun was stabbed, a judge hanged and police and pregnant women beaten.

At the end, the National Audience dismissed charges on praising terrorism, but charges on incitement to hatred were maintained.

According to the 2015-2017 global report by Amnesty International, 69 persons were arrested between April 2014 and April 2016 as a result of the Spider Operations.

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