Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

News and Information from Gibraltar on Equality, Human, Gay and Social Rights

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Alvarez reports assault by Guardia Civil

This is not an anti-Spanish complaint, it is a call against abuse’

Well-known Human Rights defender and Chairman of Equality Rights group (GGR), Felix Alvarez, has filed an official complaint with the Spanish courts following an aggressive attack by a Spanish Civil Guard at the border Customs building.

‘After enquiring of the RGP by phone, I am informed there is no way of presenting a second report to the Gibraltar police on this incident, given the events took place outside of their jurisdiction. I have therefore sent a letter of information to His Excellency the Governor, the Chief Minister and the Police Commissioner. Whilst no jurisdiction may exist, an assault by a Guardia Civil officer on a Gibraltar citizen must be brought to our own authorities’ attention.

‘On Friday, 1st June, I was crossing the border at approximately 7.50pm. I was carrying two individual packets of cigarettes in my hands, visibly displayed. As I entered, there were two civil guards, one older (probably mid-30s) and one younger (probably mid-20s). The older gentleman looked me straight in the eyes and immediately asked me to show him what I carried in my hands, so I showed him the two packets of cigarettes. He asked for my identity card, which I produced. He told me to go to the control area as I needed to report the items I was carrying. I did this, and duly provided my I.D. card and showed the items to the lady behind the glass window. I then asked if this meant I could not bring any more small amounts of tobacco for personal use, or words to that effect. I was told that, regardless of the amount, the public was only allowed one purchase (however small) per month. I thanked her and walked by the guards without further ado or comment. I was just stepping out of the Customs building when I heard shouting behind me. Since I suspected that for some reason perhaps something more was required of me, I turned back in good faith and found the older officer shouting at me. I went in closer to answer what appeared to be a question, to find that I was being accused of ‘laughing and smiling’. I was not laughing, but whether I had a smile on my face or not, I am not aware - and if so, it would probably have been nerves. However, I am certainly aware that there exists no legal prohibition either on smiling or on laughing either in the Customs hall on the frontier or anywhere else. In any case, it is fair to say that I do not believe it constitutes justifiable provocation, insult, disrespect or any kind of crime under any applicable law.

‘As I listened to the guard concerned, he came towards me in a rage, and suddenly and violently seized me by the scruff of the neck. I was stunned and shocked by the suddenness and aggression of his actions. I was then roughly handled, forced and dragged – amidst aggressive shouting by the civil guard and in front of passing members of the public in a humiliating manner – towards a small back room. I was never informed as to why I needed to be taken to that back room. I trust there will be camera footage to demonstrate the incident.

‘Once the door of the back room was firmly shut, the Civil Guard proceeded to hit me in the face, sides of the neck, and head. I was also punched once on the chest. All the time, the person concerned was shouting that I should wipe the smile off my face – which, given the circumstances is most unlikely that I would have had. At no time whatsoever did I insult, or raise my voice or attempt any violent reaction. Quite the opposite, I am not a physically violent person – I always defend myself with reason and with words. In this case I remained mostly silent, taking the blows, except to say that I didn’t understand why I was being treated in this way.

‘Having thus been held in the room and alone with this violent individual for what may have been anything from 5 to 10 minutes, he eventually decided to search me from top to bottom by frisking me. This was a last-minute consideration on his part at the end of the aggression, so it is quite clear to me the object of dragging me violently to the room had nothing to do with suspicion of carrying illicit goods as I had, in any case, been allowed to pass through Customs as I have already explained. Since I was carrying nothing untoward on my person, the guard found nothing. Almost at the end, the individual raised his right fist, clenched it and placed it in front of my eyes, saying ‘I’m going to break your face. Now go wherever you want - and report me!’

He then opened the door, and shoved me out. As I left, I noticed the younger civil guard was no longer in the passage area where pedestrians pass, but was within the confines of the glass-windowed office adjacent to the Customs walk-in area. Both that young man and the lady with whom I had dealt when declaring my two packets of cigarettes, looked at me as I was thrown out of the small room, and the expression on their faces seemed to register consternation and disbelief. It is probable that the elder civil guard was of a higher rank to the other one. It is clear that noone would have heard or seen any of the goings-on behind the closed door of the room where I was held by the individual – especially since it appears the other guard had removed himself away from the immediate area.

‘I left Spanish Customs in psychological shock and disbelief. My face, neck and head were hurting and felt hot. I had a very acute, thumping headache. When I got to my destination, the first thing I did was take a few analgesic tablets and tried to take in what had happened. I examined myself physically but I could see no evidence of of the blows I had received. (These were to be confirmed, however, by a medical examination and x-rays the following day, as factual evidence of damage to the cervical area of my neck. I also displayed, a feeling of sickness and dizziness and stiffness in the neck area for all of which I was prescribed various medications). Nonetheless, on the evening of the incident, still affected by the events, I started phoning people I knew so as to inform them. I was, however, too affected physically and mentally to have the strength to do anything further. I needed to recover.

‘From working in human and civil rights many years, I am trained to take mental note of identifying details and remember them. The guard carried no name or number on his uniform, however. I understand this may be usual with the Civil Guard, though I do not claim to be an expert on the matter. But I remember precisely the time, date and location of the incident and have a clear recollection of the individual’s physical features which I have cited in the police reports. I took immediate written note of all the details as soon as I was able, which was within 15 minutes of the incident.

The next morning – Saturday 2nd June – I first went for a medical examination both for treatment and in order to obtain an official medical report. I then went to the relevant La Linea Court and presented what is known as a ‘denuncia’ – a formal complaint against the individual in the same terms as I have detailed here.

‘No person – Gibraltarian or otherwise – should be subjected to this kind of intimidating, violent, unwarranted and unprovoked treatment from any law officer. There is just no excuse. Citizens of all nationalities must be addressed with respect and in accordance with the law. There are bad apples in all parts of all societies, but we must never tolerate violations of people’s rights – from wherever they might come.

‘At this stage, I have no idea why I was picked on – but from the first moment I got the impression my aggressor seemed to recognise me, though I don’t recall ever having known him. Whether this is a homophobic reaction to my gay rights profile both in Gibraltar and in Spain, or to my defence of human rights generally – Gibraltarian or otherwise – I have no idea right now. During the past 12 years at least, I have never hidden my face from either the Gibraltar or Spanish media, and my photo, face and name have appeared on many occasions on both sides of the border and elsewhere on tv and the written press. I have also given official formal talks on human rights in Spain.

‘I am conscious of the fact that reporting the incident could well bring danger and consequences to my person. But I am not willing, never have been, and never will be, to remain silent before abuse of power and violations of people’s rights – though on this occasion the issues have touched me directly.

‘I want to make clear that this is not an anti-Spanish complaint on my part, it is a call against abuse. I have good friends and even family in La Linea and other parts of Spain whom I value and respect, and they are all appalled to hear of this incident . This behaviour, however, is reminiscent of the abuse of power under the old Civil Guard in the times of Franco. But it can and does happen in every country from time to time.

‘For this reason, I call on anyone who is subjected to illegal and inhuman treatment for whatever reason, and despite the fear that inevitably arises, to never fail to report the incident and ensure that delinquents are properly dealt with by the law.

‘I trust both the Gibraltar and Spanish authorities will follow up this incident. No Gibraltarian or any other nationality citizen should ever feel unsafe in the hands of those whose responsibility is their protection, and not their abuse.