Fines to punish participation in demonstrations. Resisting the administrative criminalisation of activists
The Comisión Legal Sol has been providing legal support to participants in social movements and demonstrations and reporting on developments regarding judicial and legislative initiatives to counter widespread resistance to evictions, austerity and political reforms, since the 15 M[ay 2011] camp that was set up, occupying the central Puerta del Sol square in Madrid. Following its coverage and legal assistance services provided to activists to appeal sanctions imposed through what they term "burorrepresión" [administrative repression], it has learned of 1,017 such cases in four years, for which more than 100 appeals have been filed, resulting in a majority of the appealed fines being annulled. The Comisión Legal Sol's administrative law working group has produced a guide to detail how successful appeals against administrative fines imposed in relation to arrests during demonstrations may be filed, because "countless" sanctions and fines are being imposed and their ability to act is limited.
Thus, this guide on 'burorresistencia" was produced because "a tool that would be at everyone's service was necessary, so that anyone may defend themselves from 'burorrepresión'".
Extracts from the introduction of "Burorresistendo. Manual de emergencia y autodefensa contra las multas":
"From the outbreak of the phenomenon known as "15M", and throughout its development, we have been able to observe how public authorities have been enacting a range of repressive techniques aimed at restricting freedom of expression and at stifling a growing social protest, whose ultimate purpose is to take them off the streets and squares.
During this continuous repressive escalation, the repression of the conscious citizenry has been especially significant, through the use of administrative sanctions or, as it has been termed in certain milieux, "low-intensity repression" or "burorrepresión". It is a very simple technique, but this does not mean it is either inefficient or, most importantly, profitable. The people who take part in social mobilisations, legitimately exercising their rights, are spotted alleging routine or security reasons, and later, in the loneliness of their homes after several days have passed, they will find a letter in their mailbox to inform them that a procedure for them to be fined is underway.
We are talking of fines of 300 euros, up to as much as 3,000 euros, based on supposed disobedience or involvement in disorders, whose only purpose is to discourage anyone from attending meetings and demonstrations.
Within the Comisión Legal Sol, we decided to defend people from these sanctions as part of the anti-repression work that we were undertaking and continue to carry out. This has meant that, for the time being, over one hundred appeals (out of a total of 1,017 sanctions issued throughout these four years of protests) have been filed before the administrative courts where, eventually, the fines are annulled in a majority of cases, either because they do not comply with the legislation that is in force, or because they violate fundamental rights.
However, our limited resources were not the only reason behind this Manual de Autodefensa de la Persona Sancionada [Self-Defence Guide for Sanctioned People]. Since it was set up, the Comisión Legal de Sol's basic goal was both to try to provide a political critique of the system from a juridical perspective, and to try to promote an alternative view of the Law through a focus that centred on guarantees for citizens and was supportive of everyone's rights and freedoms.
This critical reading of the system and of the application of the Law is something that we have sought to express in all our demonstrations and public talks to those willing to listen to us. Now, through this guide, we did not want to waste the opportunity to communicate with those who have been sanctioned with a two-fold intention: to give them the elements for their defence that they need as citizens who are persecuted by the Administration, and also to try to provide a detailed explanation of sanctionatory administrative law at an informative/educational level.
Thus, we of CLS have tried to fulfil our purpose of spreading information in a way that is as easily understandable as possible about a subject that is as dry -at the same time as making it useful and relevant to people's daily lives- as Law, to be specific, administrative law as it is used against citizens and their fundamental rights and liberties.
This is how we are trying to break with an ancestral mechanism that the Law employs to be feared and which Power uses to be more respected; when facing the legal technicalities and obscure terms that move citizens further away from the juridical norm, we strive for clarity, a wide readership and simplicity in order to empower the citizenry to know about and critique the Law that is applied to them.
Needless to say, this guide has many shortcomings: it has been conceived to cover sanctions issued within the framework of demonstrations and meetings, it covers the most common charges that we have come across in these years, and it is conditioned by the shifts that the State's powers -by means of legislative reforms- wish to introduce for the rights of demonstrators."
The purpose of this handbook, to enable self-defence against sanctions incurred by demonstrators while fulfilling a didactic function, means that it outlines the different phases of proceedings against the defendants, providing models and examples of the judicial acts that they are liable to receive, the key elements, documentation and potential grounds to take into account and use when submitting appeals.
The report "Burorresistendo. Manual de emergencia y autodefensa contra las multas" (winter 2014)
The Comisión Legal Sol's website
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