Madrid has felt eerily like a ghost town ever since the radical lockdown began almost six weeks ago, but an investigation is now looking into whether the heavy-handed approach by the Spanish police is even constitutionally sound.
There’s a deafening silence here in the Spanish capital, which is broken only by the ominous sounds of police or ambulance sirens. The city briefly comes to life every night at 7:58pm, when Madrilenos take to their balconies to applaud healthcare workers on the frontline. It’s done with such great gusto – there are even vuvuzelas blasting away and people singing – that it can feel like a cup final night in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
It obviously helps to create a positive spirit of togetherness, but tensions are running high. I don’t want to come across like controversial radio host Alex Jones harping on about far-right conspiracy theories, and I certainly won’t say the situation in Spain is like a return to the bad old days under Franco’s regime – but with the military visible on the streets of Spain it’s hard not to describe the situation as martial law in all but name.
George Orwell’s Big Brother is alive and well here, with the Spanish police monitoring everybody using CCTV or by flying drones overhead. A staggering 650,000 people were fined and 5,568 arrested during the first four weeks alone, which has been described as “disproportionately high” by La Abogacia del Estado (the Ministry of Justice).
The heavy punishments being dished out range from €601 to an astonishing €30,000, and/or even prison sentences of anywhere between three months and a year. You’ll get a €2,000 fine if the cops feel you’ve been disrespectful.
Apart from some unessential workers like builders and cleaners being allowed to return to work last week, there’s still just under 70% of the population who are only permitted to go outside for essentials like food shopping or the pharmacy.
We’re not even allowed the luxury of being able to get some fresh air here, which I cannot understand, because other countries with similar death toll figures – such as the UK and France – permit their citizens to enjoy daily exercise for an hour. It’s even more preposterous when you learn that the one exception here is dog owners, who are allowed to walk their pets.
I myself have only left my apartment on one single occasion since the radical lockdown began on March 14. As someone who likes to run five times a week, I feel like a hamster trapped in a cage without his wheel. But any thoughts I had of breaking the lockdown dissipated on the very first day, when I saw a shocking viral video of a female jogger screaming and shouting as she was roughly dragged into a police car.
The Spanish government is only now talking about allowing children to roam the streets again from April 27, while the President of the Community of Madrid also wants to allow people with heart conditions to go for walks.
From day one, I’ve felt a total lockdown was an abuse of our human rights – and now even some judges, solicitors, law university professors, and NGOs are voicing their concerns about the radical fines being “unconstitutional.”
There’s an investigation now underway by the Defensor del Pueblo (Spanish Ombudsman) to see if the fines are “correct and proportional,” because they want to “protect the rights of the citizens.” It’s a move that has even been welcomed by La Abogacia del Estado.
The Ministry of Justice is now questioning whether the fines are legally sound and says it’s possible many cases could be thrown out of court on a technicality. They say, for example, those apprehended might get off scot-free if the police didn’t first give them a formal warning – like a yellow card in football.
It seems the Spanish police have been on a power trip since the lockdown started, judging from the huge amount of fines and from some WhatsApp videos that have gone viral.
I was shocked when I watched one video clip of a cop using heavy force to arrest a mentally ill young man who was apparently just walking home with bread.