Spanish Government Plans Ban On Online Protest Organizing

 
on April 12 2012 6:15 PM
Spain protests
Students shout slogans during a protest against cuts in education in central Madrid. Reuters

Spanish bloggers could face up to two years in jail for organizing street protests, according to draconian new laws proposed by the country's interior minister.

Jorge Fernandez Diaz laid out the measures in parliament on Thursday; they would criminalize those caught organizing street protests that seriously disturb the public peace.

The change to the penal code -- which sets a minimum jail term of two years -- is intended to prevent the sort of violent rioting seen in cities across Spain, notably in Barcelona, where anti-capitalist groups are accused of stirring tensions during last month's general strike.

According to Diaz, ''serious disturbances of public order and intent to organize violent demonstrations through social networking'' would carry the same penalties as being involved in a criminal organization, London's Daily Telegraph reported.

The proposed amendment has raised fears the government could stifle further protests and has evoked comparisons with Spain's late fascist dictator, Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

Diaz added that the new laws would also give the authorities power to clamp down on the protests themselves, making it an offense to breach authority using mass active or passive resistance against security forces and to include as a crime of assault any threatening or intimidating behavior.

In a statement following Diaz's announcement, the Interior Ministry said: New measures are needed to combat the spiral of violence practiced by 'anti-system' groups using urban guerrilla warfare.

The move echoes growing determination among European governments to punish those who use social media and instant messaging to organize and co-ordinate street protests.

In Britain, the Riots Communities and Victims Panel -- set up to investigate last year's civil unrest -- concluded that social media had a large part to play in organizing and inciting violence.

But rather than advocate clamping down on social media, the panel suggested viral silence may have as many dangers as viral noise.

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