Guest Post: Catalonia, the Trials of Shame
- February 11, 2019
This week the first trials of Catalan government officials, politicians, parliamentarians, police officials and civic activists for charges relating to the 1 October 2017 independence referendum begin in Madrid. This is a guest post from my good friend Andreu Jené, giving a Catalan perspective on these events, with my translation.
Cartoon credit: Paco Santero
Tomorrow the first trials will begin in connection with the events that took place during the Catalonia independence referendum on 1 October 2017. The trials will cover a range of offences related to the advance preparation and organisation of the referendum in the months beforehand, and the actual realisation of the ballot that was so brutally repressed by the police and civil guard on the morning of 1 October.
Most of the accused will be tried at the Supreme Court in Madrid, and a few defendants will be tried in Catalonia. In total 16 people will go on trial: the vice-president of the Generalitat (government of Catalonia); the speaker of the Catalan parliament; half the Catalan government; members of the parliamentary bureau; one female MP and two leaders of civic activist organizations ( the so-called Jordis).
In addition, the Catalan Minister of the Interior and the chief of the Catalan police will also be tried for failing to suppress the referendum, even though the Catalan police confiscated more ballot boxes on the morning of the referendum than the Spanish Civil Guard and police, without any violence whatsoever. Nine of the accused have already spent months in preventive custody – four of them for more than a year. The charges leveled against them include rebellion, sedition, disobedience and the misuse of public funds. The offence of rebellion carries with it the accusation of violence, though none of the defendants engaged in or promoted any form of violence.
Prosecutors are demanding a total of 214 years imprisonment for these charges. The vice-president of the Generalitat faces a potential sentence of 25 years. The other defendants face the prospect of 17, 16 and 7 years in prison, in addition to fines and bans on holding public office. These extraordinarily harsh demands are intended to make the court seem magnanimous if – as has been suggested – these sentences are eventually reduced to 4 or 5 years.
It should be clear than nothing is acceptable except complete absolution.
These charges have ignored judicial decisions in Belgium, German and Scotland, all of which have rejected the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) sent by the Spanish judge for the arrest of the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and other members of the Catalan government who went into exile. These countries only accepted the possible misuse of public funds as a justification for the EAW, but because the Spanish investigating judge was reluctant to bring charges only for this offence, the arrest warrant was withdrawn.
The absurdity of the charge of violent rebellion is particularly glaring in the case of the Jordis, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez, the first of the defendants to be sent to prison. On 20 September 2017, the Civil Guard entered various Catalan ministries and arrested 14 civil servants during a frenetic search for papers, ballot boxes and evidence of preparation of the referendum, which were never found.
In response to these arrests, a spontaneous demonstration was quickly organised through social media networks outside the Ministry of the Economy in the centre of Barcelona. In a few hours 20,000 people occupied the street in front of the ministry in protest. Soon afterwards Sánchez and Cuixart, as leaders of the pro-independence Assemblea Nacional Catalana (Catalan National Assembly) and Òmnium Cultural respectively, took control of the demonstration.
As evening fell Sánchez and Cuixart called on the protesters to disperse peacefully. In order to do this, they climbed onto a Civil Guard car, with the permission of the Civil Guard officers themselves, and addressed the crowd through a megaphone. Oddly, the Civil Guard car was left open, with weapons visibly displayed inside. Naturally, none of the protesters laid a hand on them, ignoring what was clearly a deliberate provocation intended to incite violence.
Following the declaration of Catalan independence on 27 October, the president of the Catalan parliament and various members of the government were immediately imprisoned, even though that declaration had no practical consequences. The rest of the Catalan government chose to go into exile. Ever since the trial process began, it has been marked by irregularities and illegalities, which have been denounced by various jurists, including ex-members of the Supreme Court itself.
Every attempt has been made to impede the defence lawyers in their work. Instead of being granted bail in order to prepare their defence with their lawyers, the accused will be taken from prisons in Catalonia to a prison near Madrid. From there they will be taken daily to and from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is contaminated by judges who have been members of the conservative Partido Popular. The high judiciary in Spain is still steeped in the Francoist past, and its ability to ensure the separation of powers and the rule of law is doubtful, to say the least.
The presence of such officials makes it difficult to believe that these trials will not be politicized. Incredibly, the fascist party Vox has been allowed to take out law suits against some of the defendants, thereby giving it a role in the trials which Vox officials intend to use to their party’s political advantage. All this is being done because the Spanish ‘deep state’ knows that sooner or later Catalonia will be independent, but it is trying to gain time by using police and judicial repression to wear down, divide and terrorize the independence movement.
Some 600 international journalists have asked to be present at the trial, which will be televised. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said that they will be monitoring the trial to ensure that due process is observed. It’s clear that when the inevitable appeals against these sentences are brought before the European Court of Human Rights they will be declared void, and the prisoners will be freed, because there is no legal basis for these invented offences. Until that day, the prisoners will remain unjustly imprisoned.
All this matters, not just for Catalonia, but for a European Union already facing serious challenges, including populism, the rise of the extreme right, refugees, the crisis in the Mediterranean, and Brexit. Ever since the referendum, the EU has turned a blind eye to the crisis in Catalonia on the grounds that it constitutes a Spanish ‘internal matter.’
It cannot continue do this for much longer – in the interests of democracy and in its own interest as well.