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Initially offensive: student fined for the letters on his sweater
12.12.16
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Following a protest in Bilbao on 26 October a 19-year-old carpentry student was walking to meet his friends at a bar when he was issued with a fine of up to €600 by the police for wearing a sweater with the letters 'ACAB' written across the front.

Two officers from the regional police force of the Basque Country, the Ertzaintza, argued that the letters - which are often used to represent the phrase "all cops are bastards" - were proof of a "lack of respect" towards state security officials, an act that since 1 July 2015 has been an administrative offence in Spain.

The fine was issued under article 37.4 of Law 4/2015 on the protection of citizen security, popularly known as the Ley Mordaza (Gag Law), which gives law enforcement officials the possibility to issue fines - with no judicial involvement - of between €100 and €600 for showing a lack of respect and consideration towards "a member of the forces or bodies of security in the exercise of their functions."

Fernandez, who unsuccesfully insisted that the letters signified "all cats are beautiful", also had his sweater confiscated "as proof of a lack of respect," according to the document he was issued by the police.

The student told the newspaper El Diario that its "absurd" to fine people "for wearing an item of clothing," that "it's a clear attack on freedom of expression," and that he planned to issue an appeal.

The same newspaper revealed in March this year that between 1 July 2015 (when the Ley Mordaza came into force) and 28 January 2016, 6,217 fines (almost 30 per day) were issued for incidents involving a "lack of respect" towards the security forces, with an average value of €145.

However the figures, given to the paper by the Ministry of Interior following a freedom of information request, did not include fines issued by autonomous police forces such as the Ertzaintza or Catalonia's Mossos d'Esquadra, nor did they include fines that were subsequently rejected by the sanctioning police force's headquarters.

It is currently unknown whether the appeal issued by Fernandez was successful.

In a similar case earlier this year Belén Lobeto found herself issued with a fine for carrying a bag bearing the letters 'ACAB', but officials at the Madrid police headquarters eventually cancelled the sanction.

The Ley Mordaza also gives the police the power to issue on the spot fines for the possession and consumption of drugs in public. Some 18,000 were handed out in the period examined by El Diario.

The paper estimated that, based on the data they received, fines issued for a "lack of respect" were likely to bring in some €900,000 for the state, while those issued for the possession or consumption of drugs had a total value of around €9.5 million.

In total more than 40,000 sanctions worth around 18.3 million euros were issued between July 2015 and January 2016, with other applicable offences including taking photos of police officers or of objects that could be used to identify members of the security forces (18 sanctions); and obstructing authorities attempting to carry out administrative or judicial resolutions (71 sanctions), for example during protests against evictions.

One of the most notorious fines issued for photographing a police officer involved a woman posting on her Facebook page a photo of a police car parked in a space reserved for disabled drivers.

The Ley Mordaza remains opposed by almost every major Spanish political party bar the Partido Popular, who passed the law following months of protest and public outcry, in Spain and abroad.

The party is in power again following two rounds of elections since December 2015. A recent motion approved by the almost all parties called for the derogation of the law (the Partido Popular voted against and another conservative formation, Ciudadanos, abstained) but the government is yet to respond.

Following the publication by El Diario of the data on fines issued under the law in the seven months since it came into force, Joaquin Bosch, spokesperson for the organisation Judges for Democracy, told the paper: "Now the government is judge and jury for a series of infractions that were previously in the hands of independent judges," overriding the principle that there is a need to prove the truth of claims made by law enforcement officers.

Sources

Multan con la 'Ley Mordaza' a un chico por llevar una sudadera con las siglas ACAB en la huelga antiLomce de Bilbao, El Diario, 31 October 2016

La Policía multa a 30 personas al día por "faltas de respeto" a los agentes desde que entró en vigor la Ley Mordaza, El Diario, 3 March 2016

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