For over five years Europe has been immersed in a constant climate of political change. Social movements such as Occupy, Indignados or the recent Nuit Debout have opened the door to participation for citizens who demand a more prominent role within a democratic system in decline: from Madrid to Kiev, from Istanbul to Paris. Reactions from different governments on both sides of the political spectrum have been similar in all cases. Given the ineffectiveness of their attempts to repress public protests making use of overwhelming policing displays, many have shifted their strategy towards more subtle methods in order to criminalize protests while hiding the repression. Appealing to different reasons long rooted in Western public opinion, sometimes terrorism, sometimes immigration, there is no shortage of countries that have joined this 'trend' of developing increasingly restrictive laws regarding freedom of speech and right to information under the excuse of strengthening national security against alleged internal and external threats. We find the latest among these examples in the "Protection of Public Safety” bill, which was passed in Spain on 1st July 2015.
This bill, immediately dubbed by the media as the Gag Law, in addition to criminalizing forms of citizen protest that were completely legal up until then and transferring to the police capabilities that were previously the exclusive domain of the judiciary, it also includes a clause that directly affects the field of the image. In its Paragraph 23, Article 36, Section 2, Chapter II, the use of unauthorized images of the police becomes a 'serious offense'. The deliberate ambiguity in its wording, aimed at broadening the limits to its application, has ended up generating improbable situations, due to the laxity with which it is often used. Not only the work of professional journalists and image makers has been affected by the law, but its effects have also reached the rest of the population. In August 2015 a driver was charged a 300€ fine for calling an officer 'buddy', and only a few days later a young man was fined 800€ for uploading onto his Facebook account a photo of a patrol car parked in a handicap parking space.
Similarly, at a time when the cameras and images have become ubiquitous, the police and other state security forces constantly produce and distribute their own images of themselves through their various channels. From friendly selfies in their Twitter and Instagram accounts to photographs of institutional events that are sent to the press for publication. The state has gone from holding the monopoly on violence to also claiming for itself the monopoly on its own image. But what if these images generated from within were also subject to the censorship processes necessary to meet the parameters of the Gag Law? This project challenges the effectiveness of the law by applying its own contents to images distributed by the police and other government agencies and institutions while exploring different visual strategies to dismantle the law’s objectives even under strict compliance with each and every one of its articles and postulates.
"It constitutes a serious offense:
23. The use of unauthorised images or personal data from authorities or members of the Security Forces that could harm the security of the agents and their families, of protected facilities or could jeopardize an operation, always with respect for the fundamental Right to Information Act"