This article is an update of Spain: Brutal Police Repression Against Journalists Covering “Secular March.”
From August 17-18, 2011, anti-riot police charged into the center of Madrid, Spain, against demonstrators organized under the slogan “Against public financing and support of institutions for the Pope's visit“ [es], organized by Europa Laica (Secular Europe), and supported by over 150 organizations.
These organizations highlighted the fact that during Pope Benedict XVI's visits, he has not held back against criticizing measures adopted by the Spanish government, including stem cell research, legalizing abortion, euthanasia or same-sex marriage.
Following the unusual police violence on August 17 during the so-called ‘Secular March,’ a mass of people came together on August 18 to denounce the befallen events of the previous day. In this second demonstration, protestors encountered a second army of police officers, who were much more aggressive.
What is happening in Madrid?
Pope Benedict XVI arrived on August 10, 2011, in Madrid amidst cheers from thousands and thousands of followers coming from all over the world to take part in the 2011 World Youth Day (WYD). Many of them spent several days basking in the sun, visiting museums, enjoying nightlife parties for participants and taking advantage of many opportunities that Madrid institutions offered them. This included an 80% discount on public transportation tickets for those registered for WYD, which is expected to cause a decline in income of around 20 million euros [es] for the state. (Similar article available here in English).
The cost of the Pope's visit, according to the financial director of the organization, Fernando Giménez Barriocanal, is estimated at 50 million euros, financed (according to the organization) by private contributions, registration and donations from companies that rely on tax exemptions, given that the government has designated this event as one of public interest. It is worth emphasizing that the public expenditure is aimed at the cost of hundreds of police officers to assure the Pope's security, as well as that of the thousands of event participants. Much like the cession of more than 600 scholarly centers and public spaces.
A public interest issue that spanned a number of days before the Ministry of Education of the Community of Madrid, personalized by Educational Advisor Lucía Figar, to display posters with Christian slogans in her windows [es], an act that could go against the Constitution, since it impedes the exercise of civil rights to use a public space for propaganda of a certain religious agenda.
Over the course of the “secular” demonstration on the 17 August, the first encounters between the demonstrators and participants of the Christian movement came underway. With a fixed path, agreed on by Madrid institutions and formed by citizens that demanded that the public decide where its money goes, it was inevitable that the Catholic attendees came closer, provoking demonstrators and cutting through their path in some streets in Madrid's center, screaming “This plaza belongs to the Pope!”
The police guarded a line of minimum separation between both groups, as a violent disaster could have erupted at any moment. It did not occur between the two camps and although they threw insults, pushes and even punches, it did not escalate further.
Once the main body of the demonstration arrived at the Puerta del Sol, demonstrators and WYD members confronted one another once again, at which point the police began separating the two groups and positioned themselves around the plaza to continue breaking them up. Once cleared of WYD members and with the plaza full of demonstrators, a brutal police attack began, in which a number of journalists were detained and insulted [es] despite showing their credentials.
On August 18, the organizers returned to find themselves with the WYD members after quite a strange movement on behalf of the police, breaking the police cordon.
The most harsh and violent case of these attacks came at the moment in which a group of anti-riot officers walked along the street, turned halfway, while a couple and one of the officers crossed, and without uttering a single word, the officer punched the girl in the face while his friends detained a photographer [es] who was doing his job.
The reactions did not wait and groups like Real Democracy Now! [es], the Madrid journalists labor union [es] and other political groups have made public press releases in which they ask for the accountability of the Delegation of the Government and the Interior Ministry, which to this day has not officially admitted the actions of excessive police zeal.