Freedom in the World
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A solid majority of Spanish voters backed the European Union (EU) constitution in a national referendum in February 2005. In regional elections in April, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) won the most votes in that region, but failed to win a majority. In May, the Spanish parliament gave the government permission to begin peace talks with Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA, or Basque Fatherland and Freedom)- the Basque separatist group-if the group agreed to a complete ceasefire. During the year, Spain arrested dozens of people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, including the March 2004 Madrid train bombings.
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)-the Basque separatist group- 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 Popular Party (PP), which had been in power for 8 years, and which took 148 seats. Other parties winning seats included the left Convergence and Union (CiU); Republican Left of Catalonia (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.
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 instead 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, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pulled the 1,300 Spanish troops out of Iraq. However, he also promised to double the Spanish peacekeeping force in Afghanistan; Spain currently has around 850 NATO troops in Afghanistan. In August 2005, 17 Spanish peacekeepers were killed when their helicopter crashed into the top of a hill in the western city of Herat in Afghanistan.
During 2005, Spain arrested dozens of people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. In September, a Syrian-born man, Imad Yarkas, was found guilty by a Spanish court of conspiring with the September 11 plotters; this was the first time a defendant in Europe has been found guilty of direct links to the September 11 attacks in the United States. Spanish authorities jailed Tayssir Alouni, a former Al-Jazeera journalist, for collaborating with a terrorist organization. Alouni, a Syrian-born Spanish citizen who in the past had interviewed Osama bin Laden for Al-Jazeera, was sentenced to seven years for acting as a financial courier to al-Qaeda; Alouni has denied the charges.
In January, the Basque regional parliament narrowly voted to support PNV leader Juan Jose Ibarretxe's independence plan for the region, which includes a separate judiciary and financial system, and separate citizenship; the plan was eventually rejected by the Spanish parliament (National Assembly). In February, Ibarretxe became the first head of one of Spain's 17 semiautonomous regions to address the National Assembly. In April, the PNV won the most votes in regional elections, but failed to win a majority. The newly formed Communist Party of the Basque Country (EHAK) captured nine seats.
In May, the National Assembly gave the government permission to begin peace talks with ETA if the separatist group agreed to a complete ceasefire. In June, ETA agreed to only a limited ceasefire, saying that it would halt attacks on elected politicians. Suspected Basque militants were arrested throughout the year, and a number of bombings in 2005 were linked to ETA.
Spain's lower house of parliament passed a law in June allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, making Spain the third country in the world to legalize samesex marriages. The first marriage between two men happened shortly afterward in July. A Spanish judge challenged the new law, saying the marriages are incompatible with the constitution, which refers to marriage as only between a man and a woman.
In February, a solid majority of Spanish voters backed the EU constitution in a national referendum. Although 77 percent of voters approved the constitution, the victory for pro-Europeanists was undermined by the low turnout of only 42 percent- the lowest of any national vote since Spain restored democracy two decades ago.
Citizens of Spain can change their government democratically. The Congress of Deputies, the lower house of the National Assembly, has 350 members who are elected from closed party lists in individual constituencies. The Senate has 259 members, 208 of which are directly elected and 51 of which are appointed as regional representatives. Members of both the Senate and Congress serve four-year terms. Following legislative elections, the prime minister (also the president of the government) is selected as a candidate by the monarch and is usually the leader of the majority party or coalition. The candidate must also be elected by the National Assembly. 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. The main political parties are the PSOE, the PP, the left CiU, the ERC, the PNV, the IU, and the CC. However, the Basque-separatist Batasuna party remains permanently banned since 2003 for its alleged ties to the armed group ETA.
Spain ranked 23 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index. According to a 2004 report by Transparency International, the country's anticorruption efforts have improved in recent years. 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. Arnaldo Otegi, a spokesman for the banned Basque nationalist party Batasuna, was sentenced to a year in prison for slandering Juan Carlos, the king of Spain. Otegi, a convicted kidnapper who currently faces charges for defending terrorism, said that the king was "in charge of torturers." Journalists who oppose the political views of ETA are often targets of the Basque separatist group. Internet access is not restricted.
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, academics who oppose the political views of ETA are often targets of the Basque separatist group.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government respects this right in practice. People are free to demonstrate and speak publicly. Domestic and international nongovernmental organizations operate 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. In 2005, the Comisiones Obreras, Spain's largest trade union confederation, called for labor rights for prostitutes. According to the confederation, of the approximately 300,000 to 400,000 prostitutes working in the county, about 90 percent are immigrants.
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. There have been reports of police abuse of prisoners, especially immigrants. Police can also hold suspects of certain terror-related crimes for up to five days with access only to a public lawyer. Prison conditions generally meet international standards.
In April, an Argentine ex-naval officer, Adolfo Scilingo, was convicted of crimes against humanity and given 640 years in prison by a Spanish court. The offenses were committed during Argentina's "dirty war" between 1976 and 1983, when the country was under military rule. Some of Scilingo's victims, including Spanish citizens, were drugged, stripped naked, and thrown out of planes. The trial was the first under new laws in Spain that allow local prosecution for crimes committed in another country. In October, Spain's highest court expanded its powers to include cases of genocide committed abroad, even if Spanish citizens are not involved.
In October, a Spanish national, Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, was convicted of belonging to a terrorist organization, al-Qaeda. Abderrahman, who had been held in
U.S. military custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for two years, was turned over toSpanish authorities in February 2004.
Under the new PSOE government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the country instituted a three-month amnesty for illegal immigrants, which came to a close in May. Immigrants who could show residency in Spain for at least six months, a work contract of at least six months, and a clean criminal record were given the right to live and work in Spain. Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation into abuses committed against illegal immigrants trying to enter Spain from Morocco. After international criticism of its deportation policies, Spain halted a recently resurrected 1992 agreement with Morocco, which allowed Spain to return all illegal immigrants who enter Spanish territory from Morocco, regardless of their nationality. Many of the illegal immigrants enter Spain by way of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco. The country's Aliens Law also allows for the expulsion of legal immigrants if they are involved in activities that are considered threatening to the country's national security.
Women enjoy legal protections against rape, domestic abuse, and sexual harassment in the workplace. However, 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 new law was introduced to parliament over the year that would force men to share household chores and the care of their children and elderly family members. If adopted, men will have to sign a marriage contract at the wedding that will oblige them to share domestic responsibilities or face penalties in the event of a divorce settlement. Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation remains a problem. In February 2005, the government modified its Aliens Law to include a provision for providing assistance to trafficking victims, the U.S. State Department reports, including making it easier to obtain residency permits. 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.