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Ruling party rams controversial security legislation through Congress

Opposition calls it “a gag law” while a group of citizens sings protest song in parliament

Members of the leftist coalition Izquierda Plural illustrate their opposition to the Citizen Safety Law in Congress. EL PAÍS

The ruling Popular Party (PP) used its absolute majority to ram the controversial Citizen Safety Law through Congress on Thursday, despite resistance from all other parties.

The entire opposition joined forces to criticize what it called “a gag law,” “a carte blanche for the police,” “an attack on civil liberties” and “a legal aberration,” among other descriptions.

Several politicians promised that if a different majority emerges from next year’s general elections, they will immediately move to reform or repeal this piece of legislation.

The original draft included heavy fines for street protestors who carried signs “harmful to Spain or the regions”

First introduced in November 2013, the bill was immediately described as a tailor-made tool for the PP to quell public displays of social unrest over the government’s handling of the economic crisis and rampant political corruption.

The original draft included heavy fines for street protestors who carried signs “harmful to Spain or the regions,” and granted private security guards the right to help the police break up demonstrations. Protesting in front of Congress, the Senate or regional assemblies was considered a serious offense.

But the outcry from other political parties, civil society and even top legislative bodies forced the PP to review the bill and tone down its harsher items to ensure they complied with the Spanish Constitution.

Although the resulting bill lost a lot of the focus on police action that defined the original text, the opposition still feels it goes too far.

“This law is a return to a police state, and it is not necessary,” said the Socialist Antonio Trevín. “Using the excuse of security, they want to slash citizens’ rights, impose the enemy’s administrative law and eliminate legal checks.”

Uxue Barkos, of the Basque party Geroa Bai, asked the government to listen to society and to the European Union, whose Human Rights Commissioner once said that “Spain is attempting to make what’s illegal, legal.”

Joan Baldoví, of the Catalan party Compromís, said the government “is trying to domesticate demonstrations with an unfair law.”

“This law is not necessary, it violates European jurisprudence and the European Convention on Human Rights, and it cuts back on fundamental rights such as freedom of assembly and association,” said Toni Cantó, of the center party UPyD.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz has come under fire over the Citizen Safety Law currently making its way through parliament. EFE

Meanwhile, members of the leftist coalition Izquierda Plural stood up with cloths over their mouths to illustrate their view that the bill is a gag law.

Defending the bill in the PP’s name, party official Conrado Escobar reminded Congress that the new legislation will replace an earlier Socialist law that was popularly known as “the kick-down-the-door law” because it was also deemed repressive.

During the congressional debate, a group of people sitting in the public gallery stood up and began singing “Do you hear the people sing,” the closing song in the popular musical Les Misérables. The singers, who are all members of a choir attached to the Indignados popular protest movement, were ejected from the room.

Using the excuse of security, they want to slash citizens’ rights and eliminate legal checks”

The government also introduced another controversial item into the bill during its parliamentary review, concerning the possibility of on-the-spot deportations of illegal immigrants who jump over the border fences in Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish exclaves in the north of Africa.

Faced with universal rebuke from other political parties, non-profit groups and even the Catholic Church over these deportations, Interior Minister Jorge Fernández said that critics were being hypocrites and asked them to supply an address where illegal migrants should be sent to for food, shelter and jobs.

The Citizen Safety Law still has to go through the Senate before going into effect.