Spanish rulers try to bar protest of govt-backed wars

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Wed May 7 14:29:13 MDT 2003

The Spanish government angrily protested the arrest of 70-odd dissidents,
who were being paid and organized by the U.S. embassy to advance the
overthrow of the governmentll.  The same government is now urging
legislation that would allow the jailing of anyone who publicly opposes a
war that the government supports or wages.  In Spain, that directly targets
millions, including almost the entire working class, who opposed the
invasion of Iraq.
Fred Feldman

From: Lee <lee at>
Subject: Spain: Draft Law to Criminalise Public Opposition to War

2003-05-06 | A draft law to change the Spanish military criminal code
proposes that participation in public acts opposing military intervention
in a situation of armed conflict could lead to prison sentences of between
one and six years for the people involved, if convicted of "defeatism".
Civilians could find themselves before military courts. The proposals would
mean a severe limitation of freedom of expression and political activity.
Article 49 of the draft, produced by the Defence ministry and quoted in
Spanish daily El País on 22 April 2002, reads as follows:

"A person who, in a situation of armed conflict of an international nature
in which Spain is involved, with the aim of discrediting Spain´s
participation in (the conflict), publicly carries out acts against it ...
will be punished with a sentence of between one and six years in prison.
The same penalty will apply to a person who ... divulges false news or
information with the aim of weakening the morale of the population or to
provoke disloyalty or a lack of spirit among members of the Spanish

According to the Spanish newspaper, the sanction would not apply only to
actions against direct Spanish military involvement, but also to actions
carried out "against an Allied power". If approved, these proposed norms
could result in the people who turned out repeatedly in Spain to protest
against the government´s backing of the war in Iraq being sanctioned for
"defeatism" by a military court.

While "defeatism" currently applies to situations where war has been
"declared" or is "generalised", the new law would extend it to "an armed
conflict of an international nature". A declaration of war requires
approval by the Cortes (parliament), and a "generalised state of war"
involves an invasion by a foreign power, whereas the existence of an armed
conflict includes circumstances in which war has not formally been declared
(such as the latest war in Iraq). This new definition, implementing a lower
threshold whereby acts commited "in circumstances under which in accordance
with international treaties to which Spain is a Party such an armed
conflict should be deemed to exist, or in cases where a state of siege is
declared", would apply to all military crimes. According to El País, it is
unclear in the draft whether it would be parliament or the government who
determines whether such a situation of "armed conflict" exists. On the
other hand, only parliament is authorised to declare a "state of siege".

Thus, "in a situation of armed conflict", "provoking, conspiring or
inciting" the desertion of a member of the armed forces, or connivance in
such acts, would be punished with sentences of between six and 15 years.
Slogans like a banner opposing the war in Iraq that has been hanging from a
balcony outside the office of the anarco-syndicalist trade union
Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (CNT) in Madrid´s Plaza Tirso de Molina,
which reads "without armies there would be no wars", could be covered.

Other measures introduced in the 1985 military criminal code in response to
the failed military coup attempt by Guardia Civil lieutenant coronel
Antonio Tejero on 23 February 1981 have been watered down in these
proposals. An article included to ensure that obedience to orders "that
involve the execution of acts that are manifestly opposed to the law or
practices in times of war or that constitute a crime, particularly against
the Constitution" would not be considered a mitigating or exempting
circumstance, would be revised by the new draft to:

"The member of the military who carries out a crime in compliance with an
order will not be exempted from criminal responsibility ... unless s/he
were obliged by law to obey such an order, did not know that the order was
illegal, and if the order was not manifestly illegal".

Such an amendment could lead to abuses by allowing notions of obedience to
limit criminal responsibility.

The draft law also envisages an extension of the competencies of military
judges to include a wide range of crimes that are normally part of the
ordinary criminal code (e.g. drug dealing), if they are committed by
members of the armed forces. El País notes that it would be the first time
since the end of the dictatorship in 1975 that the competencies of military
tribunals would be expanded, rather than reduced.

Source: El País, 22.4.03 <>http://www.elp

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