The Spanish government has passed a decree to shut down websites and social media over “public order threats”. The bill, which came into force on Tuesday, gives Madrid greater powers to restrict access to Internet platforms following “serious incidents in part of the Spanish territory” — a reference to the recent altercations in Barcelona and other Catalan towns against the imprisonment of independence leaders.

Online tools have become increasingly instrumental in the organization of pro-independence protests, either via Twitter or through private messaging apps such as Whatsapp or Telegram. For instance, the Tsunami Democràtic protest group called on its followers to occupy the airport of Barcelona via Telegram after the sentencing was announced three weeks ago. The websites of Tsunami Democràtic were since blocked by Spain’s National Court, which is investigating the organization for alleged terrorism. International media compared Spain with China and Russia after the case.

Spain’s acting president Pedro Sánchez initially presented the decree as a measure to fight the so-called “digital Catalan republic” — an online infrastructure created by the Catalan government to be less dependant on Spain in the cyberspace. “There won’t be any independence, neither online or offline,” said Sánchez after his government passed the decree last Friday. “The state will be as forceful in the digital world as it is in the real world.”

Yet, the decree also broadens Madrid’s options when fighting against the independence movement to include the “direct control” of electronic communications services in “exceptional scenarios that can affect public order, public security, and national security”.

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