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Government plans to repeal core of Spain’s ‘gag law’ before year’s end

The socialist-parliamentary group has begun contact with other parties to accelerate the process of reforming the norm approved by the PP in 2015

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) is in talks with other groups in Congress to kick-start work to reform a controversial piece of legislation known officially as the Citizen Safety Law, and popularly as the “Gag Law.”

The new PSOE administration of Pedro Sánchez wants to start working on repealing the most contentious items of the law by September, and to have a final text ready to submit to Congress by the end of the year.

When the Citizen Safety Law went into effect in July 2015, the opposition accused the government of creating “a police state”

Only the Popular Party (PP), which passed the law in 2015, opposes an in-depth review that Sánchez described as “urgent” three weeks ago during a no-confidence vote that toppled the PP government of Mariano Rajoy.

When the Citizen Safety Law went into effect in July 2015, the opposition accused the government of creating “a police state” because it gave law-enforcement officers the power to hand out administrative sanctions that were, until then, the sole preserve of judges.

Because it cracked down on public protests, particularly around Congress, critics said it was the government’s way of suppressing citizen discontent over the protracted economic crisis and political corruption scandals.

Two options

There are currently two reform options on the table. One is a PSOE proposal that suggests repealing the law altogether and going back to an earlier version of the citizen safety law dating back to 1992. A second possibility, suggested by the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), is to tweak the existing law by modifying its most controversial aspects.

The PP, which chairs the congressional committee in charge of debating the changes, has delayed the start of work on the basis of this duality. Commission Chair Rafael Merino has denied that the delay is politically motivated, and says that if one of the two proposals were to be eliminated, “everything would be a lot simpler.”

Recent talks between the PSOE and PNV suggest that the former might pull their plan. “This would avoid problems and shorten the duration of work,” admitted David Serrada, one of three PSOE deputies involved in the task force.

Sources at the leftist Unidos Podemos said they would rather repeal the existing law altogether and draft a new one from scratch

The Basque nationalists want to modify 44 points of the Gag Law and add three provisions to protect freedom of assembly and demonstration, trade union freedom and freedom to strike, which they feel have been threatened by the current law.

Ciudadanos, the fourth-largest party in Congress, approves of the PNV’s proposal. Committee member Miguel Gutiérrez said he has had “informal” talks with other political groups. “All the groups in parliament, except for the PP, have the will to change the law. There shouldn’t be any trouble doing so quickly if we have a single bill to work with,” said Gutiérrez.

But sources at the leftist Unidos Podemos said they would rather repeal the existing law altogether and draft a new one from scratch.

A promise

“The government that emerges from this no-confidence motion will start work on repealing the most virulent aspects of the Gag Law,” said Pedro Sánchez as he addressed Congress three weeks ago, while still head of the main opposition party.

Some of the more controversial items in the law were appealed by opposition parties before the Constitutional Court as soon as they went into force, such as Section 20.2, which allows for bodily searches that could require partial or complete nudity, or Section 36.2, which punished demonstrations in front of Congress of the Senate. The Constitutional Court has yet to hand down a decision.

English version by Susana Urra.

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