Spain | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2007

2007 Scores



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The militant Basque separatist group ETA announced its first permanent ceasefire in March 2006. However, talks between the separatist group and the Spanish government broke down in December after a car bomb exploded in a Madrid airport. Also that month, Spain’s Parliament approved definitive autonomy plans for the northeastern region of Catalonia. In June, a Spanish court struck down defendant Imad Yarkas’s conviction and 15-year prison sentence for helping to plan the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. However, the court upheld the Syrian-born man’s 12-year sentence for membership in a terrorist group. A Spanish court ruled in October that Tayssir Alouni, an Al-Jazeera news presenter convicted of terrorist activity, could serve the remainder of his seven-year prison sentence under house arrest. Separately, more than 26,000 migrants, many traveling in boats from Senegal, arrived on Spain’s Canary Islands in 2006, causing one of the country’s worst humanitarian crises since the Civil War of the 1930s.

Peninsular Spain’s current borders were largely established by the sixteenth century, and after a period of great colonial expansion and wealth, the country declined in relation to its European rivals. Most of its overseas possessions had been lost in wars or revolts by the end of the nineteenth century. The Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 led to the deaths of more than 350,000 people and ended in victory for General Francisco Franco’s right-wing Nationalists, who executed, jailed, and exiled the leftist 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. The militant Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), or Basque Fatherland and Freedom, was formed in 1959 with the aim of creating an independent Basque homeland and went on to carry out a campaign of terrorist bombings and other illegal activity. After a transitional period following 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, the Parliament’s lower house. The conservative Popular Party (PP) , which had been in power for 11 years, was reduced to 148 seats. Other parties winning seats included Convergence and Union (CiU), the 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 elections came only three days after multiple terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Madrid that killed close to 200 people. Shortly after the bombings, the conservative government blamed ETA, a factor that angered voters when it was discovered that the perpetrators were instead linked to al-Qaeda, the international Islamist terrorist group. 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, the PSOE’s Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pulled the 1,300 Spanish troops out of Iraq. However, Spanish troops remained in Afghanistan as part of a NATO security assistance force.

ETA announced its first permanent ceasefire in March 2006. The move was followed by formal talks between the Spanish government and Batasuna, the group’s political wing, in July 2006. In September, ETA announced that it would not disarm before the Basque region gained independence from the Spanish state and, in December, Prime Minister Zapatero suspended talks with ETA when the separatist group claimed responsibility for a car bomb explosion in a parking garage at the Barajas Airport in Madrid late that month. The bombing caused minor injuries to 19 people, including two police officers. Spain, the EU, and the United States all considered ETA a terrorist organization. In a separate development, Spanish police dealt a blow to the far-left group, the October First Anti-Fascist Resistance Group (GRAPO), with the arrest of three of the group’s key leaders during the year.

In March 2006, Spain’s Parliament approved definitive autonomy plans for the northeastern region of Catalonia despite resistance from the opposition PP. Catalonian voters in June approved the autonomy plan in a regional referendum, 74 percent to 21 percent. The plan gives the region national status within Spain, affording it greater powers over taxation and judicial matters, as well as more control over airports, seaports, and immigration.

Spain has actively sought out terrorism suspects in recent years. In March 2006, a Spanish court charged 32 suspected Islamist militants with an alleged plot to blow up the National Court in Madrid. In another case, a court in June struck down a 15-year prison term for a suspected planner of al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The Syrian-born man, Imad Yarkas, had been arrested in 2001 and convicted in 2005. The court overturned his conviction on the 2001 plot charge, but upheld his 12-year sentence for belonging to a terrorist group. In October 2006, a Spanish court ruled that Tayssir Alouni, a presenter for the Qatar-based Arabic satellite television network Al-Jazeera who had become famous for interviewing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, could serve the remainder of his seven-year prison sentence under house arrest. Alouni had been sentenced in September 2005 along with 23 other people implicated in terrorist activities.

In September, the Spanish foreign minister admitted that Spain might have been a stopover point for secret CIA flights that were part of the U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition, in which terrorism suspects were allegedly transferred abroad for coercive interrogation. Although none of the planes that supposedly stopped in Spain were said to have been carrying detainees, investigators were seeking to determine whether the planes were used for that purpose before or after their stops in the country.

Also in September, Spain sent more than 500 troops to Lebanon to bolster a UN force tasked with patrolling the border area separating Israel from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The UN force was part of a ceasefire agreement that ended open hostilities in July and August. Spain was the third-largest contributor of troops to the mission after Italy and France.

During the year, over 26,000 migrants, many traveling in small boats from Senegal, arrived on Spain’s Canary Islands, causing one of the country’s worst humanitarian crises since the Civil War. Spain and Senegal in October signed a cooperation deal that would discourage illegal migration, while also organizing the recruitment of legal workers from Senegal. Separately, a visit in February by the Spanish prime minister to the country’s North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla was called “untimely” by officials in Morocco, which lays claim to the territories. The enclaves had been ruled by Spain for 500 years and were a major entry point for illegal immigrants into Europe.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Spain is an electoral democracy. The Congress of Deputies, the lower house of the National Assembly, has 350 members elected from party lists in provincial constituencies. The Senate has 259 members, with 208 elected directly and 51 appointed by regional legislatures. Members of both the Senate and Congress serve four-year terms.

Following legislative elections, the prime minister, known as the president of the government, is selected 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’s 50 provinces are divided into 17 autonomous regions with varying degrees of power, in addition to the two North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

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 CiU, the ERC, the PNV, the IU, and the CC. The Basque separatist Batasuna party was permanently banned in 2003 for its alleged ties to the armed group ETA.

Spain ranked 23 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 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 covering a wide range of perspectives and actively investigating high-level corruption. Daily newspaper ownership, however, is concentrated within large media groups like Prisa and Zeta. Journalists who oppose the political views of ETA are often targeted by the group. Internet access is not restricted.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Spain through constitutional and legal protections. Roman Catholicism 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 (including the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons) have no such agreements. The government does not restrict academic freedom. However, ETA has sought to silence academics who criticize its political goals.

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 (NGOs) 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, about 90 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 prostitutes working in the county were 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 terrorism-related crimes for up to five days with access only to a public lawyer. Prison conditions generally meet international standards.

Spanish law allows judges to try foreigners for serious crimes, such as genocide, that are committed outside of the country. In February 2006, Ricardo Taddei, a former Argentine police officer, was arrested in Spain on an international warrant for human rights abuses during Argentina’s “dirty war” against suspected dissidents between 1976 and 1983, when the country was under military rule. In April 2005, a former Argentine naval officer, Adolfo Scilingo, was convicted of crimes against humanity and given 640 years in prison by a Spanish court. Mr. Scilingo was the first suspect to go before a court in Spain for crimes against humanity in another country.

Over 20,000 migrants, many traveling in boats from Senegal, arrived on the Canary Islands during 2006, causing a major humanitarian crisis. In October, Spain signed a cooperation deal with Senegal that would discourage illegal immigration while allowing Spain to open a recruitment office in Senegal to enlist legal workers. Spain also signed deals with two other West African countries, Guinea and Gambia, which agreed to repatriate their respective nationals who were in Spain illegally in return for aid money.

In 2005, after international criticism of its deportation policies, Spain halted a recently resurrected 1992 agreement with Morocco, which had allowed the return of all illegal immigrants who entered Spanish territory from Morocco, regardless of their nationality. Many illegal immigrants enter Spain by way of the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which border 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.

The Spanish Parliament in 2005 enacted legislation that legalized same-sex marriage and allowed gay couples to adopt children. Two judges challenged the new law during the summer of 2005, noting that the constitution referred only to heterosexual marriage. However, the country’s constitutional court rejected their challenges, arguing that the judges had no standing to question such laws. A separate constitutional challenge to the law by the conservative People’s Party remained unresolved at year’s end. 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 current prime minister has made the protection of women’s rights and gender equality a centerpiece of his administration.

Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation remains a problem. In its 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report, the U.S. State Department found that the country continued to tackle the problem through prosecution, protection, and prevention. The Spanish National Police aggressively investigated and dismantled trafficking networks and provided specialized training to police recruits on both recognition of trafficking victims and victim assistance. The government also increased funding for NGOs that assist victims, and city and regional governments continued with demand-reduction initiatives.

There are no quotas for women in national elective office. However, women won 36 percent of the seats in the lower house of Parliament in the March 2004 elections, marking a 7 percent increase from the previous elections in 2000.