MADRID (AP) — Thousands of protesters rallied Tuesday against a new Spanish public security law nicknamed the "gag law" before it went into effect at midnight, slamming it as legalized muzzling of free expression and the media.
Greenpeace activists started off the demonstrations with a surprise act of civil disobedience in the morning, draping a banner reading "Protesting is a Right" on a construction crane next to Spain's lower house of Parliament.
The banner was positioned to look like it was looming over Parliament — where protesters will face fines if they demonstrate near it.
Later Tuesday, thousands of protesters swarmed the streets of Madrid and other Spanish cities to protest the law that goes into effect Wednesday.
The wide-ranging law allows for the summary expulsion of migrants caught illegally entering the Spain's two North African enclaves, sets hefty fines for protests outside Parliament or strategic installations and allows authorities to fine journalists or media organizations who distribute unauthorized images of police.
The bill sets fines of up to 30,000 euros ($33,000) for protests near Parliament and regional lawmaking buildings when there is a "serious disturbance of public safety."
A fine of up to 600,000 euros ($638,000) is included for unauthorized protests near key infrastructure, including transportation hubs or nuclear power plants.
It was pushed through by the conservative Popular Party in the wake of largely peaceful protests that hit Spain after the financial crisis began in 2008. The demonstrations hit an apex in 2012 as the nation teetered on the verge of economic meltdown only to be saved by a bailout of its troubled banks.
Critics include the leading opposition Socialist Party that has said it will rescind the law if elected in general elections later this year, a panel of five United Nation human rights expert and the Human Rights Watch advocacy group.
Media advocates are also concerned that the law could stifle journalists because it allows for fines for "unauthorized use of images" of police, including live and recorded video.
The Popular Party government says images of police cracking down on protests could prevent them from doing their jobs or put them at risk.