Freedom in the World
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After eight years of conservative rule, the Socialist Party won general elections in March 2004. The elections took place only a few days after the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid by al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist group, took the lives of nearly 200 people. The government's quick response in blaming Basque terrorists was largely seen as the reason for the conservatives' defeat at the polls. Keeping an election promise, the newly elected prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, pulled 1,300 Spanish soldiers out of Iraq, citing the lack of a UN mandate for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. On the domestic front, the government began drafting a law to legalize same-sex marriage.
The unification of present-day Spain dates from 1512. After a period of colonial influence and wealth, the country declined as a European power and was occupied by France in the early nineteenth century. By the end of the century, after a number of wars and revolts, Spain lost its American colonies. The Spanish Civil War, from 1936 to 1939, led to the deaths of more than 350,000 Spaniards and the victory of Franco's Nationalists, who executed, jailed, and exiled the opposition Republicans. During Franco's long rule, many countries cut off diplomatic ties, and his regime was ostracized by the United Nations from 1946 to 1955. Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA, or Basque Fatherland and Freedom) was formed in 1959 with the aim of creating an independent Basque homeland. After a transitional period upon Franco's death in 1975, Spain emerged as a parliamentary democracy, joining the European Economic Community, the precursor to the European Union (EU), in 1986.
During the March 2004 parliamentary elections, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) won more than 43 percent of the vote, capturing 164 seats in the Congress of Deputies (lower house). The PSOE toppled the conservative People's Party (PP), which had been in power for 11 years, and which took 148 seats. Other parties winning seats included the left Convergence and Union (CiU), Catalonia's Republican Left (ERC), the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the United Left (IU), and the Canarian Coalition (CC). Lacking an outright majority, the PSOE relied on the support of various regionalist parties to support its legislation. In the Senate, the PP led by winning 102 directly elected seats, while the PSOE took 81 directly elected seats.
The election came only three days after multiple terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Madrid that killed close to 200 people. Shortly after the bombing, the conservative government blamed ETA, a factor that angered voters when it was discovered that the perpetrators were linked to al-Qaeda. The attacks allegedly came in response to the conservative government's staunch support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Shortly after his accession to the post of prime minister, Rodriguez Zapatero pulled the 1,300 Spanish troops out of Iraq. However, he also promised to double the Spanish peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. A 16-year old Spaniard, accused of trafficking a significant amount of explosives used in the bombing, admitted to his role in the attacks during a very quick trial in November 2004 and received a 6 year sentence.
Regionalist pressures continued during the year as the Basque regional government continued to make plans for an illegal referendum in early 2005 that would propose de facto political independence from Spain. In the Catalan region, a coalition of socialists and radical nationalists joined forces after elections in November 2003 to demand more autonomy for the region.
In October 2004, the government, in collaboration with the French police, arrested ETA's political leader, Mikel Albizu, as well as his girlfriend and sixteen other members of the group, in southwest France. The arrests, which also netted a significant amount of firearms and explosives, dealt a serious blow to the separatist group, which has been waging a 30-war against the Spanish state for Basque independence. By the end of the year, over 70 ETA members and collaborators had been arrested by the police.
The new government introduced a number of socially liberal pieces of legislation, including a same-sex marriage bill. If approved by parliament, Spain will be the third EU country to allow same-sex marriage. The prime minister, who made women's rights and gender equality a centerpiece of his electoral campaign, also introduced a "gender violence" law that would confront the widespread problem of domestic violence in the country.
Citizens of Spain can change their government democratically. The Chamber of Deputies has 350 members that are elected from closed party lists in individual constituencies. There is also a Senate, which has 259 members, 208 of which are directly elected and 51 of which are appointed as regional representatives. The country is divided into 17 autonomous regions with varying degrees of power. People generally have the right to organize in different political parties and other competitive groups of their choice. However, the Basque-separatist Batasuna Party remains permanently banned since 2003 for its alleged ties to the armed group ETA.
Political corruption remains an issue in Spain. Spain was ranked 22 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Spain has a free and lively press with more than 100 newspapers that cover a wide range of perspectives and are active in investigating high-level corruption. Daily newspaper ownership, however, is concentrated within large media groups like Prisa and Zeta. A Syrian-born television reporter for the Qatar-based satellite network Al-Jazeera, Spanish citizen Tayseer Alouni, was arrested and placed into police custody again in November. Mr. Alouni was among 35 people arrested and charged with terror-related offenses in September 2003. Mr Alouni, who has interviewed Osama bin Laden for Al-Jazeera, was charged with having links to al-Qaeda and using reporting trips to Kabul, Afghanistan as a cover for fundraising activities.
The Basque separatist group, ETA, continued its campaign of fear targeted against journalists that oppose its views on the political situation in the disputed region. Journalists and newspapers reported receiving threats by ETA in October 2004.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Spain through constitutional and legal protections. Roman Catholicism, however, is the dominant religion and enjoys privileges that other religions do not, such as financing through the tax system. Jews, Muslims, and Protestants have official status through bilateral agreements with the state, while other religions (for example, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons) have no special agreements with the state.
The government does not restrict academic freedom. However, ETA and other Basque nationalists, through a campaign of street violence and vandalism in the region, continue to intimidate unsympathetic academics, journalists, and politicians.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and the government respected this right. People are free to demonstrate and speak publicly. Domestic and international NGOs operated within the country freely without government restrictions. With the exception of members of the military, workers are free to organize and join unions of their choice. Workers also have the right to strike, although there are limitations imposed on foreigners. The Basic Act on Rights and Freedoms of Foreigners in Spain, which went into force in 2001, limits the rights of foreign workers to organize and strike. The law, which forces foreigners to "obtain authorization for their stay or residence in Spain" before they can organize, strike, or freely assemble, is intended to distinguish between "legal" and "irregular" foreigners. The issue is currently before the Constitutional Court.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. However, there have been concerns about the functioning of the judicial system, including the impact of media pressure on sensitive issues like immigration and Basque terrorism. The Spanish government endorsed a judicial reform plan in 2003 that will enhance the transparency of judges and magistrates. The judiciary has also been affected by Basque terrorism as judicial officials and law enforcement officers have been targets of ETA. Prison conditions generally met international standards. There were, however, reports of police abuse of prisoners, especially immigrants. Police can also hold suspects of certain terror-related crimes for up to 5 days with access only to a public lawyer.
The constitution provides for an ombudsman (the People's Defender) whose duties include investigating alleged human rights abuses by government officials.
The country has tightened its immigration legislation in recent years to stem the influx of immigrants into the country. In May, two foreign nationals who were loosely tied to the March 11 bomb attacks in Madrid were expelled from the country because they were deemed a threat to national security. The country's Aliens Law allows for the expulsion of legal immigrants if they are involved in activities that are considered threatening to the country's national security.
A Spanish national, Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, who was held in U.S. military custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was turned over to Spanish authorities in February.
Women enjoy legal protections against rape, domestic abuse, and sexual harassment in the workplace. Despite this, violence against women - particularly within the home - remains a serious problem in the country. The new prime minister has made the protection of women's rights and gender equality a centerpiece of his administration. A "gender violence" law was drafted only a week after the government was installed in April.
There are no quotas for women in national elective office. However, 35 percent of the seats in parliament during the elections in March were won by women, a 7 percent increase from the previous elections in 2000. Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation remains a problem. The government targets traffickers as part of its larger plan to control immigration.