Spain: Statement on the Universal Periodic Review
30 January 2020 – In July 2019, Freemuse, PEN Català and PEN International submitted a joint report outlining serious concerns relating to the rights to freedom of expression, information and peaceful assembly in Spain since its last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2015.
The report found that the 2015 Law on the Protection of Public Security (commonly referred to as the gag law) and the reformed Criminal Code are unduly restricting expression in the name of national security. Scores of musicians have been unfairly prosecuted on the grounds of glorification of terrorism and/or insulting the crown, while the gag law has been used against journalists for their reporting on police actions during protests, resulting in increased self-censorship and a broader chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country. The report further shows how the Spanish authorities have curtailed the right to peaceful assembly, including in relation to the events that took place in Catalonia around the referendum on the autonomous region’s independence on 1 October 2017, and how reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies against journalists and photographers continued to be documented.
The United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Spain took place in Geneva on 22 January 2020. Freemuse, PEN Català and PEN International welcome the statements by many UN member states who raised major concerns about the situation for freedom of expression, information and assembly in Spain. These included Ghana, Iceland, Egypt, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Islamic Republic of Iran, Germany, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland, Czechia, Russian Federation, United States of America, Luxembourg and the Maldives.
In particular, Freemuse, PEN Català and PEN International welcome recommendations by Canada, Germany and Switzerland to review or amend the gag law, as well as a recommendations by Belgium to ‘revise the Criminal Code to ensure that its crimes are in line with internationally recognized definitions’ and by Canada to ‘review the laws pertaining to criminal offences of insulting the Crown and offending religious feelings’.
Italy and the Russian Federation drew attention to the need to effectively investigate all allegations of excessive use of force by the security forces during protests while Switzerland called on the Spanish authorities to establish a code of conducts for law enforcement.
The United States of America notably called on the authorities to ‘hold accountable those responsible for crimes against journalists or that otherwise undermine the enjoyment of freedom of expression, regardless of whether they are non-state or state actors’.
Freemuse, PEN Català and PEN International further welcome recommendations by Luxembourg and the Maldives to decriminalize defamation and include it in the Civil Code, in accordance with international standards of necessity and proportionality with regard to restrictions on freedom of expression.
Freemuse, PEN Català and PEN International urge the Spanish authorities to accept and implement the UPR recommendations made in relation to strengthening freedom of expression, information and assembly as outlined above, ahead of the adoption of the UPR outcome report at the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council in June/July 2020.