July 15, 2015

Spain and Ireland are suffering through their own austerity crises. The difference is, you can still read about what's happening in Ireland. Spain has a shiny new gag law that severely restricts the right to demonstrate and even news about demonstrations:

Spain's so-called "gag law," which limits the right to public protest through massive fines, took effect Wednesday amid widespread demonstrations. The Citizen Safety Law, passed through Parliament by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) on March 12, will allow law enforcement officers to deliver fines and sanctions for people breaking public demonstration laws. The law will create fines of up to 30,000 euros for protests near Parliament and other government buildings classified by law enforcement as a "disturbance of public safety," and fines of up to 600,000 euros for unauthorized protests near infrastructure, including transportation hubs and nuclear plants. The law also bans citizens from "unauthorized use" of images of any form of law enforcement on duty, effectively limiting rights of the media.

With many comparisons to the limitations on civil liberties passed during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco throughout the twentieth century, activists began protesting late Tuesday night with members of Greenpeace draping a banner saying "Protesting is a Right" on a construction crane next to Spain's Parliament building, reports the Associated Press.

Marc Herman writes for the Columbia Journalism Review:

The so-called Citizen Security Law makes it illegal to disseminate pictures, video and other content deemed “damaging” to Spain’s police and security forces. Coinciding with a wave of demonstrations over austerity programs and bank bailouts, the law criminalizes demonstrations in front of some government agencies and public buildings, and includes stiff fines for documenting the police response.

In a written statement, a key Spanish legal organization, the Colegio de Abogados de Madrid (the Madrid Lawyers’ Association) called the law an “arbitrary and unjustified” restriction of freedom to information that “employs unclear legal concepts allowing police and security forces to use excessive and illegitimate force, with impunity.”

The law doesn’t appear targeted at mainstream international media, like the BBC or CNN, who don’t cover Spain daily anyway. A reporter here on assignment for a few weeks isn’t likely to notice it.

But for domestic media—Spanish TV, radio, magazines and newspapers, and also foreigners based here full time—it’s now part of the legal framework. It will also restrict protests by political organizations and NGOs, and press coverage of those actions. The day before the law took effect, activists from Greenpeace’s Spain chapter climbed a crane towering over the Spanish Parliament and hung a banner opposing the law. Video of the protest, which aired on the website of national newspaper El Mundo on Monday, includes a brief confrontation between a police officer and a Greenpeace member holding a sign. In theory, both that protest and shooting a video of it are illegal in Spain as of today.

The law has been challenged in Spain’s Supreme Court, which has yet to announce whether it will hear the complaint. Meanwhile, it has already changed how a journalist like me covers a sudden police presence in a Barcelona neighborhood.

Ireland is not, as financial publications like to tout, a model for Greece:

Over €30bn (£21bn) in austerity measures were introduced – public spending cuts and tax increases (mostly the former), over 15% of GDP. But for every €3 of austerity measures, the deficit was reduced by only €1. Two-thirds of austerity went to destroy Irish social and economic life, with unemployment, poverty, liquidations, suicides …

More than 30% of Irish people live in deprivation, according to the government’s own statistical agency, not far below Greece’s 37%. Over 40% of children suffer deprivation experiences. One in 10 people is at risk of food poverty – hunger.

A falling unemployment rate would normally be a signal of things coming right. But in Ireland, this disguises another social blackspot: emigration. For each person taking up a job in the last three years, two people of working age emigrated. One in seven young people has left the country.

And then there's the successfully growing boycott of the new Irish Water Tax:

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