The Catalan Government’s Office for Equal Treatment and Non-discrimination has fined HazteOír €20,000 after finding that the far-right organisation had committed a serious offence under section 43(5)(k) of Act 19/2020 on equal treatment and non-discrimination. The decision concerns a bus driven around Barcelona on 10 November with discriminatory messages printed on its outside.

Specifically, the Office found it to be proven that the messages were intended to nullify or impair the equal enjoyment or exercise of the right to personal autonomy on the basis of sexual or gender identity. Likewise, the decision states that the messages printed on the bus were designed to attack the dignity of trans* and non-binary people, deny “their existence, identity and realities, especially in the context of their childhood and adolescence” and contribute towards “creating a discriminatory climate of rejection and disparagement of this group of people.”

Apart from the fine, the decision also bans HazteOír from receiving public aid or grants for five months and from contracting with the Catalan Government and public agencies and organisations reporting to it for the same period of time.

In determining the severity of the events, the decision follows the principles recommended by the Rabat Plan of Action included in the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2013 Annual Report. They specify that when deciding on the severity of messages inciting hostility, discrimination or hatred, factors to be taken into account include who is sending the message, how it is sent, how widely publicised it is, how explicit the message and the call to discrimination are, and the context in which the message is distributed, i.e. the social and political time at which it is sent, whether there is a previous tendency to discriminate against the targeted group, and whether this group has the capacity to counteract the message.

The decision also sets out the extensive Spanish and international case law on the recognition of sexual or gender identity as an integral feature of the right to dignity and the free development of the person together with the right of personal portrayal. It further reviews legislation and case law relating to the right to freedom of speech and its limits when this right comes into conflict with other rights.

First Office for Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination penalty

The decision, served on Tuesday to the organisation concerned, is the first penalty imposed by the Office for Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination in the Ministry of Equality and Feminisms. It concludes the proceedings initiated by the Office on 10 November which included interim measures to identify, block and remove the transphobic bus from the public highway.

During the procedure the case was reported to the Hate Crimes and Discrimination Service in the Barcelona Provincial Prosecutor’s Office which did not find any evidence of a criminal offence. Consequently, the investigation and subsequent penalty were handled administratively through the Office for Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination.

The Spanish Association against Conversion Therapies also joined the case as a party to the proceedings.

Act 19/2020 published in easy-to-read form

The penalty imposed on HazteOír’s transphobic bus was made possible by the implementation of Act 19/2020 of 30 December on equal treatment and non-discrimination which was passed in late 2020. The Office for Equal Treatment and Non-discrimination has recently brought out an easy-to-read version of the Act designed to make it simpler to learn about and understand what it says. The aim is to ensure that anyone living in Catalonia can readily find out what the Act includes and trigger the mechanisms required to enforce their rights.

In particular, the easy-to-read version helps to safeguard the rights of people in groups which are often minoritised and discriminated against that are protected by the Act. Thus Article 1 of Act 19/2020 recognises eleven grounds which are used as a pretext for discriminatory practices. Specifically, the Act covers sex or gender, sexual orientation or identity; age; territorial or national origin; race, ethnicity or skin colour and any form of racism such as anti-Semitism or anti-Gypsyism; language or cultural identity; ideology, political or other views or personal ethical beliefs; religious beliefs and any expression of Islamophobia, Christianophobia or Judeophobia; social or economic status, administrative situation, occupation or condition of deprivation of liberty, and any expression of aporophobia or hatred of the homeless; physical, sensory, intellectual or mental disability or other types of functional diversity; alterations in health, serological status or genetic characteristics; and physical appearance or clothing. The Act also includes a general clause recognising “any other characteristic, circumstance or expression of the human condition whether actual or perceived which is recognised by international legal instruments” as potential grounds for discrimination.