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Spain 2016/2017

The offence of “glorifying terrorism” continued to be used to prosecute people peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. New cases of torture and other ill-treatment, excessive use of force and collective expulsions by police officials were reported, including against individuals who attempted to enter irregularly from Morocco into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were sometimes not effectively conducted. Authorities accepted the resettlement and relocation of only a few hundred refugees, far below the commitments undertaken. Spanish authorities continued to refuse to co-operate with the Argentine judiciary to investigate crimes committed during the Civil War and by the Franco regime.

Freedoms of expression and assembly

Throughout the year, unwarranted restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, information and assembly were imposed, on the basis of the 2015 legislative amendments to the Law on Public Security and the Criminal Code.

On 5 February, Alfonso Lázaro de la Fuente and Raúl García Pérez, professional puppeteers, were imprisoned for five days after performing a play which included scenes in which a nun was stabbed, a judge hanged and police and pregnant women were subjected to beatings. During the show, one of the puppets displayed a banner bearing the sign “Gora ALKA-ETA” (“Up with ALKA-ETA”). The puppeteers were charged with glorifying terrorism and incitement to hatred. Their arrest took place after several individuals said they were offended by the play. In September, the National Court dismissed charges of glorifying terrorism. However, at the end of the year, the prosecution continued on charges of incitement to hatred.

In April, the Minister of Interior urged the General Council of the Judiciary to take measures against José Ricardo de Prada, a National High Court judge. He had participated in a round table organized by the City Council of Tolosa, Guipúzcoa, where he expressed agreement with the concerns of international human rights organizations regarding the barriers to effective investigations of cases of torture in Spain. In addition, the Prosecutor’s Office supported a request by the Association of Victims of Terrorism that he should be removed as member of a court in two criminal trials because of his alleged bias. In June, the National High Court dismissed both requests to take action against the judge.

During the year, the National High Court delivered 22 guilty verdicts against 25 people for glorifying terrorism offences. Most rulings came as a result of “Operation Spider”, involving the interception of messages published on social media. Between April 2014 and April 2016, 69 individuals were arrested as part of the operation. 

Torture and other ill-treatment

New cases of torture and other ill-treatment, including excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, were reported throughout the year. Investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment were sometimes not effectively and thoroughly conducted.

In January, the judge investigating the death in Cadiz on 4 April 2015 of Juan Antonio Martínez González, as a result of the injuries sustained while he was being restrained by law enforcement officers, made his ruling. He found that there was no evidence to support charges that the officers used banned methods of restraint or that they exceeded their powers in their intervention. At the end of the year, an appeal against the ruling before the Provincial Court of Cádiz was upheld.

In May, in the case of Beortegui Martinez v Spain the European Court of Human Rights once again found that Spain violated the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment by failing to conduct an effective and thorough investigation into allegations of torture of individuals under incommunicado detention. This was the seventh ruling of this kind against Spain.

In May, the Audiencia Provincial of Barcelona heard the trial against two officers regarding the case of Ester Quintana, who lost an eye in November 2012 as a result of being hit by a rubber bullet shot by the Mossos d’Esquadra during a protest in Barcelona. The trial ended with the acquittal of both officers, as the court was unable to establish which officer had fired the bullet.

In July, the Supreme Court partially annulled the conviction by the High Court of Saioa Sánchez for an act of terrorism in December 2015.

The High Court had convicted Saioa Sánchez and two others of terrorism-related offences. Her appeal to the Supreme Court claimed that the High Court refused to investigate whether the statement of one of the defendants, Iñigo Zapirain, implicating her in the offence, had been made under duress. The Supreme Court ordered a new hearing, asking that the Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Istanbul Protocol) be followed to assess the veracity of the statement of Iñigo Zapirain. The ruling took account of the concerns expressed by international human rights bodies about impunity and lack of thorough and effective investigations, as well as about shortcomings in the quality and accuracy of forensic investigations.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

The number of irregular arrivals of refugees and migrants, crossing from Morocco into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla through the fence separating the two countries, decreased on the previous year. However, the overall number of arrivals including those passing through regular border crossings increased. There continued to be collective expulsions by Spanish law enforcement officers in Ceuta and Melilla towards Morocco. The Spanish reception system for asylum-seekers remained inadequate, with too few places in official reception centres and too little assistance for those housed outside them. Spain failed to implement European Directives on stateless persons, asylum procedures and reception conditions. There continued to be no implementation of the Asylum Act, six years after its entry into force. As a result, asylum-seekers across the country experienced uneven access to the assistance they are entitled to. Between January and October, 12,525 asylum applications were submitted in Spain, according to Eurostat data, compared with 4,513 in 2013. By August, the growing backlog of unprocessed asylum applications had reached 29,845 cases.

On 9 September, at least 60 people from sub-Saharan Africa who had gained access to Spanish territory by climbing the fences separating Ceuta from Morocco were collectively expelled. Before being expelled some of them were beaten by Moroccan officers who entered the area between the fences, which is Spanish territory. Some of those returned to Morocco were injured while scaling the fences and as a result of the beatings.

Although Spain agreed to receive 1,449 people from the Middle East and North Africa under resettlement schemes, only 289 people, all Syrian nationals, had reached Spanish territory by December. Likewise, in contrast to the commitment made to receive 15,888 people in need of international protection from Italy and Greece under the EU internal relocation programme, only 609 were relocated to Spain by December.

Impunity

Spanish authorities continued to refuse to co-operate with the Argentine judiciary to investigate crimes under international law committed during the Civil War and by the Franco regime. Spanish authorities obstructed Argentine prosecuting authorities in the class action known as “Querella Argentina” from taking statements from some of the victims and the 19 defendants. By means of a circular dated 30 September, the Spanish Prosecutor’s Office instructed territorial prosecutor offices to refuse to conduct any of the judicial inquiries requested by the Argentine prosecuting authorities, arguing that it would not be possible to investigate the crimes reported, such as enforced disappearances and torture, under the Amnesty Act (among other acts) and because of the statute of limitations.

Discrimination – migrants’ health

Austerity measures continued to have a detrimental effect on human rights, especially with regard to access to health and social protection for some of the most vulnerable groups. The Constitutional Court declared that legislation approved in 2012, restricting access to free health care for undocumented migrants including primary health care, was constitutional. This reform has taken away the health care cards from 748,835 migrants, removing or seriously limiting their access to the health system and in some situations putting their lives at risk. There has been a particular impact on women, in terms of barriers to information on, and services related to, sexual and reproductive health.

Right to housing

Public spending on housing was cut by over 50% between 2008 and 2015, while mortgage foreclosures continued unabated. According to statistics from the General Council of the Judiciary, up to September 2016 there were 19,714 forced mortgage evictions and 25,688 evictions for non-payment of rent. However, there were no official figures showing the number of people affected by foreclosures in Spain, nor disaggregated data by sex or age, which prevented the adoption of measures to protect the most vulnerable. Householders facing repossession claims continued to lack adequate legal remedies to enforce the protection of their right to housing before courts.

Violence against women

According to figures from the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, 44 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners as of December. The Act on Comprehensive Protection Measures Against Gender-Based Violence and the establishment of Courts on Violence Against Women came into force in 2004. However, there has not been a participatory and transparent review of the impact of the law since then, despite concerns about the effectiveness of prosecutions and the adequacy of victim protection measures.

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