First they came for the …

The slippery slope of censorship, surveillance and oppression expressed through variations of Martin Niemöller’s speech have become cliché by now. Over the last 16 years, authoritarian regimes have chipped away at basic freedoms, piece by piece and law by law. Still, many believed that the countries of the Western world, or at least western Europe, or at least the country where “I” live, would remain free, democratic and with legitimate governments. At the very least, the authorities would not bother me if “I had nothing to hide”, or did nothing wrong.

That fantasy bubble has now popped, as the true faces of our rulers reveal themselves more and more. In the case of Spain, perhaps it should come as little surprise, where Francisco Franco ruled as a dictator up until 1975. Ironically, making jokes about that dark past is considered “glorifying terrorism”, as one Spanish woman learnt her lesson this year, and got a one-year jail sentence for a Twitter message. In Amnesty International’s report from the beginning of this year, they urge Spain and other European countries to respect Human Rights, specifically freedom of speech and right to political expression. In February 2016, Spanish children’s puppeteers were arrested for including an ETA banner in their show. (See page 41 of the report).

Yet, even all of these events have been considered anecdotes, and the warnings have been heard as fringe voices from the sideline. In Spain, that is now changing. In the dispute between Catalonian separatists and the central government, the silk gloves are off, with thousands of police deployed. The prime minister Mariano Rajoy commands people to “stop the disobedience”.

In an unprecedented move for a European country in the last decades, the offices of the central Internet name registrar for the Catalonian .cat top level domain were raided. It is shocking, because it is such a blatant attempt at control and censorship of political speech. However, it is also concerning because it strikes at the center of the Internet infrastructure, and risks indiscriminately affecting all websites with .cat domains. Catalan leaders compare the move to Turkey, China and North Korea. In a follow up, Google was instructed by the High Court to remove an app related to the 1 October vote.

Regardless of which side of that particular conflict one stands, there is no denying that the blocking, suppression and censorship Spain’s regime is now carrying out is of political nature. It is trying to win the political argument through censorship and authoritarian control of information and communication tools normal citizens rely on. Spain’s government is using the court and police to force its political agenda, when the opposition is talking about a democratic vote.

The government which was voted in to uphold and protect a free democratic state has now failed at that task. As such, it can no longer be considered a legitimate government. If Spaniards know what’s good for them and their country, the will vote Mariano Rajoy and the Partido Popular out of office, while they still have the chance to do so.