Spain is experiencing a very serious moment, not only from the health point of view, but also in the political sphere due to the authoritarianism of its Government.
On March 14, the Spanish Government declared a state of alarm by means of a decree (see PDF) that included a “limitation of the freedom of movement of people.” However, by way of the facts, the coalition government made up of socialists and the far-left has been limiting and even suspending the exercise of some constitutional rights in an openly illegal way, leading Spain to an increasingly dangerous drift that has made raise alarms in various sectors of our society, starting with the parliamentary opposition, which denounces that the Government is trying to cover up its mismanagement of this health crisis and taking advantage of this serious situation to apply increasingly authoritarian measures, developing a political agenda that reminds of Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, of which the communist members of the Government are admirers. Some of the rights that are being affected are detailed below.
1. Political pluralism and parliamentary control over the government’s work
Article 6 of the Spanish Constitution states: “Political parties are the expression of political pluralism, they contribute to the formation and expression of the will of the people and are an essential instrument for political participation.” Furthermore, Article 116 states that the operation of Congress cannot be interrupted during the state of alarm. However, on March 19 the government parties -PSOE and Podemos- illegally delegated the functions of the Congress Table to its president, a measure that the opposition has described as a “gag”. Likewise, the PSOE has denounced one of the opposition parties before the Prosecutor’s Office for exercising its opposition work. It so happens that the Prosecutor, the socialist Dolores Delgado, was until January 13 the Minister of Justice of the Government of Pedro Sánchez.
2. Equality before the law
Article 14 of the Spanish Constitution states that Spaniards “are equal before the law and may not in any way be discriminated against on account of birth, race, sex, religion, opinion or any other personal or social condition or circumstance.” However, in this state of alarm, the Government has allowed several of its members to skip the mandatory confinement that it imposed on other citizens. In addition, and after their respective partners were infected by COVID-19, neither the Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez nor the Vice President Pablo Iglesias have been quarantined, going to the La Moncloa palace to star in long television speeches in a propaganda tone, to the scandal of many citizens.
3. The right to life
Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution protects the right to life. However, the negligent action of the Government, disregarding the WHO recommendations up to five times during the month of February and postponing all measures to contain the coronavirus until after the feminist protests of March 8 -supported by the Government-, has resulted in the death of more than 19,000 people in Spain according to official figures from the Ministry of Health, making Spain the country with the most deaths from coronavirus per million inhabitants. Despite this, the Government has so far refused to self-criticize and admit to any mistakes. From one of the opposition parties, the government has been accused of euthanizing “more than 8,000 elderly people who have died in completely abandoned and evicted residences.”
4. Religious freedom and worship
The decree that established the state of alarm did not suspend this right and made attendance at places of worship conditional on “the adoption of organizational measures consisting of avoiding crowds of people” (Article 11). However, the Police have evicted several Catholic temples under threat of sanction despite the fact that the number of parishioners in them was far less than the capacity of the churches. In addition to breaching its own decree, with this measure the Government violates Article 55 of the Spanish Constitution and Organic Law 4/1981, which do not allow religious freedom and worship to be suspended in a state of alarm, not even in a state exception or siege. Christian lawyers have already announced a lawsuit against the Interior Minister over these church evictions.
5. Freedom of movement
Article 19 of the Spanish Constitution states that Spaniards “have the right to choose their place of residence freely, and to move about freely within the national territory.” Organic Law 4/1981 establishes that during a state of alarm the following may be agreed: “Limit the movement or permanence of people or vehicles at specific times and places, or condition them to meet certain requirements.” However, the decree of a state of alarm has indiscriminately limited that right in its Article 7, applying it to the entire national territory and at all hours and restricting it to a few exceptions. In practice, a prohibition of this right has been imposed, a prohibition that that law only allows in a state of exception (Article 20) and with the prior authorization of Congress.
6. Freedom of speech and information
Article 20 of the Spanish Constitution protects “the right to freely express and disseminate thoughts, ideas and opinions trough words, in writing or by any other means of communication” and to “to freely communicate or receive accurate information by any means of dissemination whatsoever.” However, the government’s limitations on questions from the media have sparked protests by several of them.
A journalist has denounced pressure from the PSOE “so that we do not count the health catastrophe.” On April 6 the Interior Minister announced that he is “monitoring” social networks, labeling as “criminal” the dissemination of “absolutely false and biased news”, despite the fact that the Government itself is providing false figures of deaths from coronavirus, by excluding part of the deceased reported by some regional governments. Another government party, Podemos, has reported to the Prosecutor’s Office an incredible story about a “criminal organization” whose crime would be to criticize the Government.
This week, the Center for Sociological Research (CIS), dependent on the Government, has published a survey clearly aimed at generating an opinion favorable to censorship of the media and social networks with the excuse of combating “absolutely false and biased news”, which has caused a scandal between Spanish journalism and criticism from the parliamentary opposition.
7. The right of assembly
Article 21 of the Spanish Constitution recognizes “the right to peaceful unarmed assembly.” Organic Law 4/1981 only allows the suspension of this right during a state of exception, not in a state of alarm, and with the prior authorization of the Congress of Deputies. However, and despite the aforementioned, the Spanish Government has suspended this right by way of the facts and in an openly illegal way, even sanctioning those who exercise that right in a totally legal way.
8. Legal certainty
Article 25 of the Spanish Constitution states: “No one may be convicted or sentenced for any act or omission which at the time it was committed did not constitute a felony, misdemeanour or administrative offence according to the law in force at that time.” However, and as we have seen, the Government is imposing sanctions – or threatening its imposition – on those who limit themselves to exercising their rights under the Constitution and the law. On April 9, half a million fines had already been imposed with an average amount of 600 euros. As it has been known this week, the State Attorney’s Office itself has questioned the legality of the sanctions against those who breach the confinement<&a>. This could cause an avalanche of appeals against said sanctions.
9. The right to private property
Article 33 of the Spanish Constitution recognizes the right to private property, adding: “No one may be deprived of his or her property and rights, except on justified grounds of public utility or social interest and with a proper compensation in accordance with the provisions of the law.” However, during this state of alarm, the Government is confiscating medical supplies from private companies indiscriminately, even causing problems in supplying the health system in some region. This week the executive even confiscated a batch of rapid tests from the Siemens Gamesa company, the purpose of which was to test its employees in order to resume work safely. In some cases, the confiscation of materials is causing serious problems for some companies, which could go bankrupt because of it. It so happens that in March Vice President Pablo Iglesias, from the far-leftist party Podemos, had threatened with expropriations, in the style of Venezuelan socialist regime.
10. The right to work
Article 35 of the Spanish Constitution recognizes the right to work. However, many Spanish professionals are finding themselves unable to exercise that right after the government decreed the closure of those business activities that it does not consider essential. To top it off, the Government has not suspended the collection of Social Security contributions from many self-employed workers whom it is preventing from working, and has even improperly charged those who dropped out in March.
11. Freedom of enterprise
Article 38 of the Spanish Constitution states: “Free enterprise is recognised within the framework of a market economy.” On March 27, the Government prohibited dismissals during the state of alarm. Associations of businessmen and self-employed professionals have accused the government of infringing on the freedom of enterprise with this measure, which could push many companies into bankruptcy, leaving their employees without the planned compensation for dismissal cases.
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