Millions of Spaniards have engaged in protests over the past four years. As of July 1 they can be subject to disproportionate fines and even jail for exercising their democratic rights to freedom of expression, assembly, protest and information. Interview.
No Somos Delito, a platform of over 100 groups held the first ever hologram protest in Madrid against the Law of Citizen Security (also known as Ley Mordaza, Gag Law) on April 10, 2015. Andrea Teti speaks to Cristina Flesher Fominaya, No Somos Delito spokesperson.
Andrea Teti (AT): How did you come up with the idea for a holographic protest?
Cristina Flesher Fominaya (CFF): We didn’t! This idea was brought to us by a group of media professionals concerned about what is happening to our democracy in Spain, and who designed this campaign to raise awareness about the law of citizen security. They brought the campaign to us for free, and we supplied the content, the people, the media contacts and disseminated it through our networks. The instigators prefer to remain anonymous because they wanted all the attention to be for the platform, who have been fighting against this law for over a year and a half.
AT: What is the campaign message?
CFF: The campaign sends a message to Spain’s citizens that soon the only way to protest freely will be as holograms. It sends a message to the government that we will not be silenced and will continue to stand up for our democratic rights. And it sends a message to the world that the right to protest must be protected in any democracy and that those rights are being taken away, not only in Spain but around the world.
The government wants to turn the millions of Spaniards who have been protesting into criminals, but we are not criminals, we are citizens who have the right to be heard.
AT: How did the whole thing actually work?
CFF: There are two aspects of the campaign. The first, the actual hologram protest itself, which took place in front of parliament and involved a screening of a previously filmed holographic protest. Spokespeople from No Somos Delito and the media were there, but no one else: it was a virtual protest.
A black hologram booth was set up so that journalists and the spokespeople could do the media interviews as holograms too. The protest was screened across a transparent screen on a loop, with an audio track. All the technical support was provided for us by these anonymous creative professionals, because we do not have any sort of funding and would never have been able to do anything like it.
The second part of the campaign is the webpage, where people from anywhere in the world can go online and leave their hologram, a written message, or a shout out. (Search for “Holograms for Freedom” and you can participate). Over 50,000 people visited the site, and about 18,000 people left a hologram, message, or shout. Some of the messages were then incorporated into the slogans on the protest signs for the filming and some of the shouts were incorporated into the audio track.
AT:You protested in front of the Spanish parliament? How did you manage that?
CFF: We were only able to do it because we got a film shoot permit. Protesting in front of parliament is forbidden, and whoever does so after July 1 will incur a fine of up to 30,000 Euros, so a protest permit would not have worked.
AT: So – will there be more hologram protests? Is digital protest as effective as ‘real’ protest?
CFF: No, this is a one-off for us—it is a symbolic protest designed to raise awareness so that people realize what is happening to their basic rights. Remember millions of people in Spain have protested over the past four years, and under this new law they could be criminalized and subjected to fines for peaceful protest. People need to be aware of that.
Digital protest has its place, it is easier to do, and it really helps raise awareness and the webpage enabled people who cannot physically come to Madrid for example, to express their opposition. But as a platform what we want is for people to take to the streets. We need to defend our right to protest by protesting, by being on the streets. That right is absolutely fundamental in any democracy worthy of its name.
AT: After the success of the hologram march what is the next plan of action for the No Somos Delito movement?
CFF: We have been working for over a year and a half to raise awareness about the threat to our democracy and to try to stop the laws from being passed in the first place, using every means at our disposal.
Now that the law has passed we will continue to work to have it revoked. This involves a number of strategies, from continuing to work with opposition parties to overturn the law in the next government, to supporting measures to have it declared unconstitutional, which it clearly is, and to continue to educate people about their rights and what is happening to them.
Millions of Spaniards have engaged in protests over the past four years, and as of July 1 they can be subject to disproportionate fines and even jail for exercising their democratic rights to freedom of expression, assembly, protest and information.
AT: What are your thoughts on the current Spanish government?
CFF: We believe that the government is trying to make citizens think that they do not have the right to protest or to stand against what they perceive to be injustice or against the interests of the people.
That we do not have the right to be on the streets, to voice our opinions, to hold assemblies.
And that those who do protest are extremists, threats to security.
But these rights, to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to protest, and freedom of information are enshrined in our constitution, and this law as well as the other measures they have passed that criminalize protest are unconstitutional and fundamentally undemocratic.
This government has used its absolute majority to unilaterally pass a package of laws, including the law of citizen security, that no other party supports and that the majority of Spanish citizens oppose. The law does not make us more secure, on the contrary it increases our insecurity by criminalizing the exercise of basic human rights.
AT: Who are No Somos Delito backing in the election? Will you support Podemos?
CFF: No Somos Delito is completely apartisan. We will work with any party that is willing to oppose the Gag Law (as this law is known) and we have already brought together representatives of a number of political parties to publicly sign a manifesto committing their parties to work to overturn this law within the first six months of the new government if they are elected.
Podemos is just one of many parties that has publicly committed to do this by signing our manifesto.
AT: How many people are involved in No Somos Delito?
CFF: No Somos Delito is a platform that encompasses over a 100 associations, including lawyers and jurist associations, migrant rights groups, environmental organizations, and human rights organizations, as well as dozens of assemblies associated with the 15-M movement in Spain.
The day-to-day running of the platform takes place in a weekly assembly that usually ranges from about 20 to 40 people in any given meeting, but the assembly is connected to the social movement network through various forms of communication and working groups.
AT: Why do you believe the government has decided to impose the Citizen Safety Law?
CFF: The Law of Citizen Security, the Gag Law, is part of a major package of legal reforms, including the reform of the penal code and the anti-terrorist pact that represent the greatest cut back in democratic rights in Spain since the Franco dictatorship.
This law not only introduces new infractions – many of which violate basic constitutional rights such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to assembly, the right to protest, and the right to freedom of information-but it increases fines for existing offenses.
The law is known as the Gag Law (Ley Mordaza) because it is clearly designed to target and repress social movements. It has been unilaterally proposed and passed by the Popular Party, with the opposition of all the other parties in government, using their absolute majority. This law is their answer to the demands of millions of Spain’s citizens to have a greater say in the decisions that govern their lives. Instead of listening to the people, who in their millions have participated in over 87,000 protests in the last two years, they have opted to try to silence them, and close down the space available for protest, by making certain forms of protest illegal and imposing disproportionate fines.
To give you some examples, and so you can see that these sanctions are targeting many new forms of protest since the 15-M movement in Spain:
– We will now be subject to up to 600 Euros fine for holding an assembly in the open air,
– Up to 30,000 Euros for protesting in front of parliament, stopping an eviction, unauthorized use of photographs or videos of police, or passive resistance to authority such as a sit in.
– And up to 600,000 Euros for protesting within or in the immediate area surrounding any infrastructure that provides basic services, in such a way as to create a risk to life or people. But there is no legal specification of “risk” or “the surrounding area” in the law, so it is open to interpretation. This type of infraction includes protests within any telecommunication infrastructure, since many journalists have protested against the political manipulation of news and broadcasting.
It is really about controlling the use of public space by citizens and silencing critical voices. The law also makes returning migrants at the border legal, which violates their right to seek asylum.
The language of the law is very ambiguous as well, which makes it open to abuse. This is not just the view of No Somos Delito, Human Rights experts from the United Nations have determined that this law violates Spanish citizens human rights and «unnecessarily and disproportionately restricts basic freedoms such as the collective exercise of the right to freedom of opinion”, and the Commissioner of Human Rights at the Council of Europe has also expressed concern and opposition, as has Amnesty International and other groups.
The irony of this law is that it is justified by alleging that citizens are demanding “greater security”. In fact, security issues are about twelfth on the list of public concerns, Spain is the third least violent country in the entire European Union, and less than 1% of protests in Spain have any sort of incident-99% are peaceful. And the state already has at its disposal a set of laws to handle any major disturbances.
In any event, none of the proposed measures increase security, in fact they reduce it, because they make citizens more vulnerable to criminalization for exercising their basic human rights, like peacefully protesting or holding a meeting outdoors.
AT: Do you believe that the law marks the end of protests in Spain, what is the future for protests when the law comes in?
CFF: The future is scary for protesters in Spain. But the purpose of the protest is to send a strong message to our government that we will not give in to fear, we will continue to exercise our democratic rights. We will defend our right to protest by protesting and by continuing to work to get the law repealed. That right is absolutely fundamental in any democracy worthy of the name.
But let’s not forget why people are protesting in the first place, and why they feel they need to do that on the streets: people took to the streets in Spain on 15-May 2011 demanding Real Democracy Now, because they felt democracy had been hijacked by corrupt political elites who did not represent them, who did not let them participate in politics, and who refused to listen to their needs in the context of a devastating economic crisis that has left millions of people in really dire circumstances.
Political elites essentially refused to respect the duty to represent popular will which is essential to their democratic mandate. The demand for the right to protest is part of a greater demand for the right for the people to be heard in a system that has very few mechanisms available for political participation outside voting for the same two parties every four years.
Thanks to Guadalupe Bohoyo of No Somos Delito (NSD) for her assistance in preparing this interview, and thanks to NSD for permission to use photos and videos.