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Government draft bill moves to quell street protests and anti-social behavior

Fines of up to 600,000 euros to be levied for unauthorized Congress demonstrations

Protestors stage an ‘escrache’ outside the home of Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro in April of this year.
Protestors stage an ‘escrache’ outside the home of Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro in April of this year.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz is expected to present a draft bill at Friday’s weekly Cabinet meeting laying out the content of a Protection of Public Safety law to replace the 1992 legislation currently in force. The new law encompasses administrative punishments for a range of public order offenses, including participation in an escrache— the practice of protesting on the doorstep of politicians — demonstrating outside Congress without official authorization, burning trash containers, insulting police officers and picking up prostitutes in public places near schools, among others.

The aim of the draft legislation is to put a stop to practices that, despite the efforts of the government, have not been deemed worthy of penal censure in the courts. Gathering outside the seat of parliament without permission will be considered a serious offense and carry a fine of between 30,000 and 600,000 euros.

The draft bill will be discussed on Wednesday at a meeting of the government secretaries and sub-secretaries of state and if approved will be passed to the Cabinet. If eventually given the green light by Congress, the new law will replace that introduced by Socialist minister José Luis Corcuera in 1992, which Interior Ministry sources said was “very good” in its day.

From the point of view of the police it is a necessary law for day-to-day needs”

The future “Fernández Law” contains 55 articles, many of which are geared toward gaining greater control over street protests. It will enable the police to establish “security zones” to prevent congregations; although the draft makes no specific reference, that measure is designed to stop escraches. Vehicles blocking the roads (such as tractors, taxis or trucks) during demonstrations will be impounded if protestors refuse to move them.

As well as at Congress, impromptu gatherings will also be prohibited at the Senate and regional assemblies. As such, the authorities are aiming to prevent initiatives such as the 25-S protests, which were staged under the slogan “surround Congress.”

Penalties will also be imposed on people wearing hoods, motorcycle helmets or other items to obscure their identity during disturbances, while insulting and threatening behavior toward police officers will also be subject to action.

The battery of punishable offenses included in the new legislation also covers soliciting, negotiating, offering and accepting sexual services in the vicinity of schools, parks or in areas where road safety will be compromised. The practice of botellón — drinking in the street — will lead to a fine if “public order” is placed in jeopardy, while driving drug addicts to points of illegal sale, damaging the urban infrastructure, making barricades, climbing public buildings without permission, mistreating animals in public performances, distracting pilots or train and bus drivers with laser pointers will also be punished with fines.

Minor infractions will carry economic sanctions of between 100 and 1,000 euros; serious offenses between 1,001 and 30,000 euros; and very serious offenses 30,001 and 600,000 euros. The Interior Ministry said fines have not been increased with respect to the 1992 law, but that offenses now deemed very serious were not included in the previous legislation. Ministry sources said that the draft had been in the making “from the first day of the present legislature.”

Joan Coscubiela, deputy for the ICV leftist-greens and spokesman for the Plural Left group in parliament, said the PP should call the initiative “the foot-in-the-mouth of democracy law,” in allusion to the so-called “kick on the door” 1992 legislation. Coscubiela said the raft of proposals represents “a brutal assault on civil rights.”

The director general of the police, Ignacio Cosió, applauded the draft bill. “From the point of view of the police it is a necessary law and the ministry has displayed great awareness in heeding the day-to-day needs of the police.”

“Pie in face” trial begins

LOLA HIERRO, Madrid

Four people accused of throwing pies into the face of Navarre regional premier Yolanda Barcina at a meeting in Toulouse in October 2011 denied being behind the attack in the High Court this week. Prosecutors are seeking up to five years in prison for the defendants and fines of 2,700 euros each for an attack on authority.

Barcina’s bodyguard said he had identified three of the assailants from police photos and videos posted to the Mugitu blog, which campaigns against the construction of a high-speed rail link in the Basque Country, something Barcina supports. Barcina admitted that she could not identify her attackers “because my eyes were full of meringue.” “The pie hit my face very hard and was very painful,” she told the court.

The lawyer for the defense of Gorka Ovejero, the deputy mayor of Arrauzu, Navarre, Ibon García, Julio Martín and Mikel Álvarez said the case should be dropped as it already has been in France. “If this legislation is good enough for war crimes, it should be good enough for three meringue pies,” he said. The defendants deny even being in Toulouse and claim the case is an attempt to criminalize the campaign against the rail link.