Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals or organizations may bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation. The complainant may also pursue an administrative resolution. Persons may appeal court decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after they exhaust all avenues of appeal in national courts.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions. On October 22, a court in Barcelona agreed to investigate a complaint filed by Catalan regional parliament president Roger Torrent and regional parliamentarian Ernest Maragall that their cell phones were surveilled in 2019 using a software program developed by the Israeli company NSO Group. Amnesty International called on the government to publish information about any contracts it has with digital surveillance companies.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits, subject to judicial oversight, actions including public speeches and the publication of documents that the government interprets as celebrating or supporting terrorism. The law provides for imprisonment from one to four years for persons who provoke discrimination, hatred, or violence against groups or associations on the basis of ideology, religion or belief, family status, membership in an ethnic group, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, illness, or disability.
On February 25, the Constitutional Court ruled that criticism, even severe, of politicians is protected speech and overturned the prison sentence of rapper Cesar Strawberry. In 2017 the Supreme Court sentenced Strawberry to a one-year imprisonment related to his social media posts criticizing politicians that the court ruled as hate speech.
The Law on the Protection of Citizen Security, known as the “gag law,” penalizes the downloading of illegal content, the use of unauthorized websites, violent protests, insulting a security officer, recording and disseminating images of police, and participating in unauthorized protests outside government buildings. The NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) called the law a threat to press freedom, and the Professional Association of the Judiciary considered it contrary to freedom of speech and information. During the government-decreed state of alarm from March 14 through June 20, state security forces used this law to fine citizens who violated mandatory confinement orders. Amnesty International protested the use of the law to fine several persons who filmed an incident allegedly showing police harassing a mentally ill man and his mother, noting its longstanding concerns with the vague formulation of the law, which authorizes sanctions for “lack of respect of law enforcement officials.” The acting ombudsman declared in April his intention to investigate its application during the confinement. On November 19, the Constitutional Court, in deciding a case brought by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in 2015, upheld most of the law but ruled the provision against unauthorized recordings of members of security forces to be unconstitutional.
In a March 8 report, the UN special rapporteur for minority issues expressed concern that the October 2019 sentencing of 12 Catalan politicians and civil society activists interfered with the freedom of expression and nonviolent political dissent of the Catalan minority and could serve as a signal to prevent the political dissent of other minority groups. The national ombudsman rejected the categorization of the Catalan-speaking population as a minority.
On July 16, Amnesty International called on the government to repeal the criminalization of the glorification of terrorism, insults to the crown, and offending “religious feelings,” which it maintained unduly restricts freedom of expression.
On January 16, the Barcelona hate crimes prosecutor presented the first-ever legal complaint against an individual who falsely claimed in social media that unaccompanied foreign minors were linked to school violence. The prosecutor noted that online hate speech was often not prosecuted due to lack of information on the identities of the perpetrators.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views generally without restriction. The RSF and other press freedom organizations, however, indicated that the country’s restrictive press law and its enforcement impose censorship and self-censorship on journalists. In January the Universal Periodic Review of the country by the UN Human Rights Council noted that the Law on the Protection of Citizen Security was used against journalists who reported on police action during protests.
Journalist associations denounced the format of the government’s press conferences during the government-decreed state of alarm during the COVID-19 pandemic. The journalists claimed they had to send all questions in writing in advance to a government communications office, which then relayed them to the relevant ministry. They alleged that not all their questions were passed on and that they were unable to engage in direct dialogue with government officials. More than 400 journalists signed an open letter to the government under the title “The Freedom to Ask” and demanded increased access to question government officials. In April the government ended its requirement that questions be submitted in writing in advance.
Violence and Harassment: There were multiple reports of government officials’ verbally attacking certain media outlets and specific journalists. On March 1, President Pedro Sanchez accused “conservative” media of “stirring up society” every time conservatives lose an election. The same day, Second Vice President and Podemos party Secretary General Pablo Iglesias claimed press critical of the government had “offended the dignity of journalism.” Also in March, Iglesias threatened to send a journalist to prison for publishing compromising information about his party, especially regarding its financing. The comments were immediately condemned by the Press Association of Madrid.
In July, following comments by Iglesias against the press and a tweet by Podemos party congressional spokesperson Pablo Echenique attacking the professionalism of a television anchor, the Federation of Journalists Associations of Spain condemned Iglesias and Echenique for attempting to “coerce and intimidate” journalists to prevent them from freely exercising their profession. The RSF also called on the Podemos party leadership and all political parties to respect the freedom of the press.
The RSF blamed repeated attacks against media by the Vox party for provoking verbal and physical attacks on reporters during May countrywide protests against the government’s COVID-19 policies. In one instance several individuals assaulted a photographer covering a protest in Madrid, threw his camera to the ground, and tore his shirt. The RSF also voiced concerns about Vox’s online harassment of critical journalists and fact checkers and condemned Vox for banning some media outlets from attending its press conferences and election events.
In February the International Federation of Journalists warned in its 2019 annual report about the increase in cases of violence against the exercise of journalism in Catalonia, asserting that this community has become “dangerous territory” for journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government fully funds the public media conglomerate Spanish Radio Television (RTVE). The RTVE’s president is proposed by the government and confirmed by parliament. Journalists complained that the RTVE, under a caretaker president since 2018, operated with insufficient oversight and claimed that the caretaker president arbitrarily reassigned news directors and journalists.
Libel/Slander Laws: Under the law slander is an offense punishable with six months’ to two years’ imprisonment or a fine. The law was not used by the government or individual public figures to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents. The law does not criminalize blasphemy, but fines may be levied against those who offend the feelings of members of a religious belief or of those who do not have a religious belief.
National Security: Amnesty International and other organizations criticized the antiterrorism law as overly broad, but there were no known reports of the government using the law to suppress its critics.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Prosecutions and convictions for corruption were rare compared to the complaints filed, mainly because of the extensive system of legal appeals.
Corruption: Corruption was a problem in the country. Corruption cases crossed party, regional, and municipal lines, and while the backlog of cases was significant, analysts noted courts continued to process them regardless of political pressure.
On August 11, a Madrid judge formally charged key members of the Podemos party with alleged misappropriation of public funds and embezzlement related to the financing of its headquarters renovations and consulting contracts during the 2019 electoral campaigns. The investigation stemmed from testimony by Podemos’ former lawyers, Jose Manuel Calvente and Monica Carmena, who claimed financial irregularities, including the allocation of the renovation of the party’s headquarters and the payment of surcharges to members of the party. The lawyers also claimed that Podemos was linked to Neurona Consulting, a purported front company used to divert money through contracts made during the April 2019 general election campaign and allegedly to pay commissions to Podemos’ founder, Juan Carlos Monedero.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws and are required to publish their income and assets on publicly available websites each year. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The national ombudsman serves to protect and defend basic rights and public freedom on behalf of citizens. The Office of the Ombudsman was generally effective, independent, and had the public’s trust. The ombudsman’s position has been vacant since July 2017 and is filled on an acting basis by the first deputy assessor. The ombudsman is appointed by parliament but serves in an independent oversight capacity.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits with fines discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions effectively. The law requires private companies with more than 50 employees to hire persons with disabilities for at least 2 percent of their jobs.
In July the interior minister published the Action Protocol for Law Enforcement Agencies on Hate Crimes to guarantee the equality of and prevent discrimination against vulnerable groups from abuse based on, inter alia, intellectual and physical disabilities. This follows the Interior Ministry’s January 2019 action plan to protect vulnerable groups.
According to the State Employment Public Service’s 2020 report, in 2019 more than 65 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed, more than twice the percentage of the general population. Percentages increased with age and with the degree of visible disability.
The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. While the government generally enforced these provisions, levels of assistance and accessibility varied among regions.
In August the Spanish Confederation of Personal with Physical and Organic Disabilities (CERMI) reported significant challenges in providing assistance to persons with disabilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included the failure to provide educational and personal support such as in-person consultations with teachers and lack of access to sign language interpreters, communication mediators, and physiotherapists. CERMI also reported the lack of curriculum adaptations for students with disabilities for remote learning. It noted that the lack of psychological and emotional support negatively affected both the physical and mental health of students with disabilities. The situation for women and girls was particularly difficult, according to CERMI, in part because of higher rates of poverty and increased social exclusion.
On September 21, the OHCHR Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities determined that the country violated the right to inclusive education of a child with Down syndrome by sending the child to a special education center over the objections of his parents. The committee concluded the government failed to assess the child’s specific requirements and to take reasonable steps that could have allowed him to remain in mainstream education.
Section 7. Worker Rights
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced the law, although discrimination in employment and occupation still occurred with respect to race and ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. The government requires companies with more than 50 workers to reserve 2 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities, but it does not effectively enforce this law. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
The law mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value, but a pay gap exists between men and women. On September 24, the Spanish National Statistics Institute reported that women earned on average more than 11 percent less per hour than their male counterparts, compared with 14 percent less in 2014. The gap exists across variables such as age, education, years of service, occupation, type of contract, length of working day, activity, and company size.
In March 2019 the government approved an executive order on urgent measures to guarantee equal treatment and opportunities between women and men in employment and occupation. Congress validated the order in April 2019.
On October 13, the Council of Ministers approved a decree aimed at lessening the wage gap and increasing transparency of employee wages by requiring companies with more than 50 employees to publish salary data for all their workers, disaggregated by gender. On July 30, the Ministries of Labor and Equality signed with two major unions an agreement on effective equality between women and men at work. Under the agreement companies with more than 50 employees must create equality plans and maintain and audit payroll records for over- or undervaluation of positions based on gender.
On International Women’s Day on March 8, hundreds of thousands of women and men demonstrated in most cities to call attention to gender-based violence, wage gaps, and sexual harassment.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for a national minimum wage, which barely met the poverty level in 2019. In June the government approved an increase to the minimum living wage, which will guarantee an income of between 461 euros ($553) and 1,015 euros ($1,218) for approximately 850,000 households. The measure aimed to reduce extreme poverty in the country by 80 percent.
The government effectively enforced minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health (OSH) standards in the formal economy but not in the informal economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, with an unbroken rest period of 36 hours after each 40 hours worked. The law restricts overtime to 80 hours per year unless a collective bargaining agreement establishes a different level. Pay is required for overtime and must be equal to or greater than regular pay.
The National Institute of Safety and Health in the Ministry of Labor has technical responsibility for developing OSH standards. The law protects workers who remove themselves from situations that could endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Inspectorate of Labor has responsibility for enforcing OSH laws through inspections and legal action if inspectors find infractions. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law in all instances, although the number of inspectors and infractions identified increased since 2014. The penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, with 45,605 violations identified in 2018, the latest year for which data was available. Unions criticized the government for devoting insufficient resources to inspection and enforcement. The most common workplace violations included OSH in the construction sector and infractions of wages and social security benefits on workers in the informal economy. The Ministry of Labor issued specific COVID-19 guidelines addressed to self-employed persons and companies that included measures to protect the health of workers.
In 2019 the Ministry of Labor recorded 650,602 workplace accidents, of which authorities considered 4,518 as serious but nonfatal. There were 716 fatal accidents, 13 fewer than in 2018.
Through July the Ministry of Labor recorded 263,434 workplace accidents, of which 418 were fatal accidents, 47 more than the same period in 2019.
During the government-decreed state of alarm, many domestic workers reportedly were dismissed from their employment in Madrid because they were unable to obtain the required employer-provided paperwork to travel between city districts due to their irregular status. Prior to the pandemic, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in February described extremely poor living conditions for seasonal migrant workers in Huelva, including the lack of clean water and electricity, as well as inadequate sanitary conditions. Rights groups had long criticized migrant worker conditions in Huelva, noting exploitative labor conditions, physical abuse, sexual assaults, and racism.
After the Moroccan government closed its borders in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 7,100 Moroccan seasonal strawberry pickers, mostly women, were trapped in Huelva in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, unable to repatriate following the termination of their contracts in mid-June. On July 15, the Spanish and Moroccan governments announced an agreement to repatriate the workers.