Amid Protests, Spain Tries Banning Photos Of Police

As anti-austerity protests spread around the country, the Spanish government is drafting a law prohibiting citizens from taking photos and video of riot police on the job. Video already released on YouTube shows police firing rubber bullets into crowds and beating demonstrators. The proposed ban on citizen photography seems to have prompted even more people to join protests and take pictures, including 12 year old Paula Carrasco.

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In Spain, the government is drafting a law that would forbid citizens from taking photos or video of police on the job. That's after several amateur videos popped up on YouTube showing riot police beating anti-austerity protesters. Large numbers of police have also been injured in the clashes.

As Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid, the idea of banning the use of cameras at public protests has raised all kinds of questions, from is it fair to is it even enforceable?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: As Spain's economy has tanked, angry protests have become a weekly, often daily fixture in downtown Madrid. And often, the next day, graphic videos emerge.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

FRAYER: This recent clip uploaded to YouTube shows Spanish riot police pursuing protesters into Madrid's (unintelligible) railway station late at night. They fire rubber bullets into a crowd on a train platform. An older man tries to shield a younger possibly handicapped man who appears to be holding crutches.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language)

FRAYER: Shame, shame, the older man yells at police. Last month, Amnesty International called on Spain to stop what it called excessive use of force and human rights violations against protesters. But weeks after that warning, another video emerged from the eastern city of Tarragona showing riot police beating a 13-year-old boy on the ground.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

FRAYER: None of the videos could be independently verified, but images like this have sparked threats against police and their families. Riot troops have started covering up their names and badge numbers when they go out into the streets. Activists say that allows police to act with impunity. Protesters can't log complaints against anonymous officers. The standoff prompted the director general of Spanish police, Ignacio Cosido, to call for a ban on the capture, reproduction and editing of images, sounds and even information about police while they're working.

IGNACIO COSIDO: (Through translator) What this law seeks is a balance between the protection of citizens' rights and those of security forces.

FRAYER: The law is still being drafted. It's unclear whether it would pass parliament and legal experts say it would be almost impossible to enforce. Arturo Rodriguez is a photographer who sometimes works for the New York Times here in Madrid. He wonders what the law would mean for freelancers and citizen journalists.

ARTURO RODRIGUEZ: It's very important that the people go to the street and say that this is my country. This is my life. I need the help of my government, not the violence of my government.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NEWS CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Dateline Spain, July 18th, 1936, the maelstrom of civil war pitted fiercely loyal Spaniards against one another in a battle to the death.

FRAYER: Heavy-handed police hearkened back to the days of Francisco Franco, the military dictator who ruled Spain until his death in 1975. The country is still divided over his legacy. Emotions flared when members of Spain's ruling party, which has historic ties to Franco's regime, congratulated riot police for their efforts. Rodriguez, the photographer, says Spain is like two countries in one.

RODRIGUEZ: One of this country's people say it's no matter on the police that we have is a very good police. And the other half of the country, it's like, okay, we need to go to the streets all together and work for our future.

FRAYER: Activists say camera ban would infringe on their freedom of speech and assembly and the mere suggestion of such a rule appears to have prompted more people to join the protests and bring along their cameras. Police assemble barricades ahead of another planned protest outside Spain's parliament. Passersby stop and stare. Twelve-year-old Paola Karaskas(ph) snaps a photo with her cell phone. She says she's heard about the controversy over photos of police.

PAOLA KARASKAS: (Speaking foreign language)

FRAYER: I think it's very bad, she says. They don't want us to reveal or broadcast the true nature of these protests. Having grown up with YouTube and Twitter, the girl says she doesn't even trust TV.

KARASKAS: (Speaking foreign language)

FRAYER: We need to know the reality that's out there for ourselves, she says. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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