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Facebook user faces €30,000 fine for posting video of policeman online

Footage shows seemingly out of shape officer failing to catch escaped psychiatric patient

Last November a Facebook user in Spain posted a video of a police officer who failed to catch a suspect he was chasing. The scene was filmed from inside a car in the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia. In the video, which has now been removed, a voice can be heard seemingly mocking the police officer for being out of shape.

Spain’s ‘gag’ law restricts filming of the authorities.
Spain’s ‘gag’ law restricts filming of the authorities.

The Facebook post received more than 300 shares and 17,000 views, according to regional daily La Voz de Galicia. But now the police have presented a proposal to fine the author of the post, using Spain’s Law on Public Safety – also known as the ‘gag law.’ The fine could be as high as €30,000.

Some reports, including the article in La Voz de Galicia, suggested that the police also wanted to fine everyone who “liked” the video on Facebook. However a spokesperson from the National Police in Santiago told Verne that those reports were “definitely false.”

Spain’s 2015  ‘gag’ law has been criticized by the EU

“The official who wrote the proposal for the sanction only did so against the person who published the video, not for those who pressed the ‘like’ button or shared it or whatever else,” said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson explained that the proposal for the sanctions is based on two legal articles. The first has to do with the “mockery, taunts and disrespect toward the officer, who represents an institution – the National Police force.” Article 37.4 of the law says “disrespect and a lack of consideration toward police forces or public security forces carrying out their work,” is a minor infringement of the law. Those accused of violating it can face fines ranging from €100 to €600.

In the video, according to La Voz de Galicia, those making the film were questioning if the physical condition of the police officer influenced his performance. The police explained that the man the officer was chasing was a psychiatric patient from a nearby hospital. “He tried to catch him, but sometimes you can do more harm than good, for example, if the chase ends in a traffic accident,” explained the spokesperson, justifying the officer's failure to detain the patient.

The police are also basing the proposal for the fine on article 36.22, which prohibits: “the unauthorized use of images or personal or professional data of the authorities or members of the police forces or public security forces that could put the personal safety of the officer or their family members in danger.” This is considered a serious offense and can result in a fine of between €601 and €30,000. “The application of the sanction is not the responsibility of the police,” said the same source.

The police spokesperson insisted that as yet no sanction is in place, but rather a proposal for one, which will be decided upon by the central government's sub-delegation in A Coruña, the regional capital of Galicia. When asked by Verne, the sub-delegation said it had not received a copy of the police proposal. “When we receive it we will study it to see whether or not it should be pursued or archived,” said a spokesperson.

Juan Moreno, a lawyer who specializes in freedom of expression, warned that these types of sanctions are brought by government officials. “You have to take them with a lot of caution, because [the government] tends to back the laws they propose,” he said.

Until now the only politician to comment on the matter has been the deputy premier of the regional government of Galicia, Alfonso Rueda, who said: “What they are doing is applying a law."

Moreno added that the person under investigation can present arguments in defense of posting the video, present evidence and, in the case of being fined, could appeal to a court of contested administrative procedure. “Those are the courts that will evaluate the case and their decisions could be brought forward to the Constitutional Court,” he said.

English version by Alyssa McMurtry.

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