Spain: Gagging laws unduly restrict freedom of assembly and human rights defence and must not enter into force


Spain must revise citizen security, anti-terror and criminal code reforms to comply with international and European human rights law, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

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(Geneva) - ISHR today called upon the Spanish Government to postpone the entry into force of three controversial reforms which were passed by Congress on 26 March 2015, and which are manifestly incompatible with fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in international law and the European Convention on Human Rights, which was ratified by Spain in 1979. The laws are currently scheduled to enter into force in July this year.

Civil society organisations, such as Rights International Spain (RIS), along with several UN human rights experts, have expressed grave concern at the negative impact the reforms will have on fundamental freedoms, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

The new Citizen’s Security Law requires prior governmental consent to engage in peaceful protest, as well as limiting severely the places in which such protests can take place.

The reform of the Criminal Code has the potential to unfairly punish those who convene marches, whilst increasing the sanctions which can be imposed for offences taking place in the context of protests.

Rights groups fear, meanwhile, that the anti-terrorism reform contains vague and imprecise terms which could be applied arbitrarily and impose disproportionate limits upon freedom of expression.

‘These gagging laws clearly violate the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. They impose arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions and undue and excessive sanctions upon those who seek to use the streets as a forum for their human rights defence and to raise concerns about governance,’ said ISHR Advocacy and Communications Manager, Ben Leather. Spain has seen a 283 per cent increase in street protests since 2008, in line with the increase in austerity measures.

Five UN Special Procedures had previously stated that ‘the text of the reform projects includes broad or ambiguous definitions that pave the way for a disproportionate or discretionary enforcement of the law by authorities’. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, had said of the Criminal Code Reform that ‘the wording of the law is problematic and the crimes, as defined, could criminalise those who convene peaceful demonstrations’.

Moreover, NGOs have highlighted that the definition of terrorist offenses - using terms such as ‘acts of incitement and glorification’ or ‘justification of terrorism’ - contained in the anti-terrorism reform, are too broad and vague, leaving them open to arbitrary interpretation.

RIS has underlined that the Citizen Security Law has three clear and disturbing objectives: it requires that persons obtain prior authorisation from a government agency (as compared with a requirement to give prior notification to that agency) in order for a peaceful protest to be lawful, violating Article 21 of the Constitution; second, it seeks to prevent public space from being used as a place of political participation, and lastly, any form of social, peaceful protest legitimate in any democratic society will be sanctioned. According to the conditions of the new law, protesters could be fined as much as 600,000 euros for protesting in front of certain public buildings, such as the Congress.

Last year ISHR published a briefing paper in English and Spanish, raising the issue of the official restrictions on the space for human rights defenders and activists and encouraging the government of Spain to reverse the trend of increased restrictions on and abuses against demonstrators. The paper was formally submitted to Spain’s Universal Periodic Review Process, which will conclude at the Human Rights Council this June.

‘It is imperative that the Spanish State listen to the UN and to its own civil society and reform these laws in order to meet international standards,' said Mr Leather. ‘Failing that, it falls upon other UN member States to use the adoption of Spain’s UPR in June as a platform to question these new laws and demand action’.

For more information, contact ISHR's Ben Leather at or Cristina de la Serna of Rights International Spain at


  • Europe
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • Universal Periodic Review
  • Spain