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New details on the application of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, intervening in Catalan autonomy. It's emerged that it will give the Spanish state powers to authorise or prohibit demonstrations, and, as such, free rein to decide for what reasons people can take to the streets. The power was first reported by the Catalan public radio broadcaster's morning show: El matí de Catalunya Ràdio. They added that the Spanish Interior minister would have the last word over the approval of any gathering, once he takes over the role of the Catalan Interior minister via article 155.

The power to authorise (or not) demonstrations currently resides with the Catalan Interior department, who notes that, in agreement with Spanish law, they have to be informed in writing of any planned demonstration. They can "only prohibit them when there are reasons based on the disturbance of public order, with danger for people or property".

Article 21 of the Spanish Constitution says that "the right to peaceful, unarmed assembly is recognised", and that "this right will not require prior authorisation", as repeated by article 3 of the law Ley Orgánica 9/1983, de 15 de julio, which regulates the right to assembly. Below is the law as it appeared in BOE (Official State Gazette) number 170.


Moreover, the same article decrees that the "governing authority will protect gatherings and demonstrations in the face of those who try to prevent, disrupt or impair the legitimate exercise of this right".

Article 5 does, however, define the authorities' right to prohibit a demonstration if it is considered to break the Penal Code, if there is a disturbance of public order, with danger for people or property, or if attendees use paramilitary uniforms.

The crime, according to the Penal code

Article 513 of the Penal Code makes it clear that the demonstrations that can incur punishment are those held "with the aim of committing some crime", or "those which attract people with arms, explosive artefacts, blunt instruments, or instruments that are dangerous in any other way".

Currently, however, in none of the many demonstrations held in Catalonia in recent weeks have either of these criteria been met: no crimes have been committed, nor has the presence of any kind of weapon or dangerous object been seen.

The crime as established by the criminal law sets a penalty of up to one to three years in prison and fines for 12 to 24 months. There is currently, however, no punishment for preventing a demonstration aimed at supporting Catalan institutions or calling for independence.

Legitimate exercise

Now, Mariano Rajoy's government is clear that anything related to the declaration of independence is illegal and, therefore, it remains to be seen how they interpret the law and which demonstrations they will allow and which they will prohibit.

Article 514.4 of the Penal Code says that "those that prevent the legitimate exercise of the freedoms of assembly or demonstration, or who seriously disrupt the running of a legal demonstration or gathering will be punished with prison for between two and three years if it involves violence and with prison for between three and six months or a fine for six to twelve months if it's carried out via extrajudicial means or any other illegal procedure".

One option for the Spanish government would be article 8 of the Ley Orgánica, which says that a demonstration must be reported at least ten days before it takes place, although the second half of the article says that "when extraordinary and serious causes exist which justify the urgency of the call" for the event, only 24 hours' notice are needed.

The pace of events recently has given a different agenda every day which has caused a number of demonstrations to be called with only a few hours' notice.

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