Chris Bambery – Catalonia: A People in Search of Justice in an Unjust EU

In his report concerning week 10 of the show trial conducted by Spain to convict the leaders of Catalonia Chris Bambery and many Catalonians are coming to the conclusion that the EU is an accessory to this injustice.

Chris Bambery is author and broadcaster. Co-author (with George Kerevan) of Catalonia Reborn: How Catalonia Took on the Corrupt Spanish State and the Legacy of Franco (Luath Press, June 2018)

BRAVE NEW EUROPE is probably the independent international medium that has covered the Catalan Independence movement the most. It has provided the Catalan cause a platform to communicate with the rest of Europe, as well as posted many original articles on the topic. If this is the sort of media you wish to read and support, then please donate  here.

The very fact that the Spanish Supreme Court decided to continue the trial of the 12 Catalan leaders into Holy Week shows the pressure it is under to bring this trial to a conclusion by June at the latest. On a broader scale Catalonia is a central issue in the ongoing Spanish general election campaign with the three right wing parties, the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox, are competing as to which is hardest on not just Catalan independence but the autonomy it has enjoyed since 1979. They are dragging Spain’s Socialist Party behind them so this week its leader and outgoing Premier, Pedro Sanchéz, announced that he would act with “strength and proportion” if there was any repeat of the October 2017 Catalan independence referendum; meaning the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.

The problem Sanchéz faces that while the Socialists seem set to be the biggest party in the new Parliament it looks set to fall short of winning an overall majority thus requiring him to barter for the support of smaller parties, including those backing Catalan independence. The ongoing trial of the 12 at the Supreme Court charged with rebellion and sedition in connection to the 2017 referendum will make that very difficult.

Five of the accused are candidates in the election, including former Catalan Vice President, Oriol Junqueras, who heads the electoral list of the Left Republican Party of Catalonia. All five will remain in a jail outside Madrid during the electoral campaign.

Last Monday the first witness up was the senior Spanish Civil Guard officer

A senior official from the Guardia Civil police was the first witness to take the stand in Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday morning, as week 10 of the trial of the Catalan independence leaders began. The anonymous officer was deputy to Daniel Baena, the Civil Guard Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the force’s judicial police who drew up the reports on which the charges against the 12 were based. Baena testified two weeks ago.

The deputy officer was particularly damming of the former President (Speaker) of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, claiming she was the “channel for passing [independence] laws.” In other words she permitted the motion to initiate the independence referendum to be heard and voted upon, despite the Spanish Constitution of 1978 providing no means of permitting such a vote.

Forcadell has become an important figure in this trial because she argues she was upholding the sovereignty of the Catalan Parliament and its democratic right to allow that debate and vote because a majority of representatives desired that. She has also been held in preventative custody for a year awaiting trial. Her prosecution centres on Spain’s denial of free speech. If found guilty the 63 year old faces a jail sentence of 17 years, although an appeal to Strasbourg should see her freed after 6 or 7 years.

The officer also testified against the former Chief of the Catalan Police, the Mossos, Josep Lluís Trapero stating he was an “essential figure in the pro-independence strategy.”

The narrative of successive Civil Guard officers is not only that the violence which occurred in Catalonia in the autumn of 2017 came from mobs of voters to which they responded humanely (this relies on the Supreme Court not permitting film of incidents to which they refer being shown in contradiction to their evidence) but also that the Mossos, on orders from the top, acted to obstruct them.

For charges of rebellion to stick it requires the prosecution to convince the Supreme Court judges that the 12 accused (Trapero faces a separate trial) were inciting insurrection and key to that is the claim that they incited the Mossos to act against Spanish police sent to stop voting.

The Civil Guard officer also testified that a former Catalan government official Josep Maria Jové was a “key point” for their investigation, and that evidence seized in a raid on his house showed that he “was the person who had to authorize the expenses to hold the referendum.”

Jové was the right hand man of Oriol Junqueras, he is a member of the Catalan Parliament and President of the Left Republican Party. On  the morning of 20 September 2017, while driving to work, his car was halted by armed police and he was arrested and charged two days later.

His house was also raided. Among the items seized was a moleskin notebook which has become central to the prosecution case because in it Jové outlined possible strategies to secure Catalan independence. In another report found by the police which they call the “road map”, four different possibilities were considered. The first, was to call an election for the Catalan Parliament and to follow up a victory for pro-independence parties with a declaration of independence; second was to call such an election to maximise support for the pro-independence parties; third was to call elections and an independence referendum on the same day; fourth envisaged an “open conflict [with the Spanish State] with the Catalan Parliament approving laws creating an independent state followed by immediate elections of the new independent State .

The Civil Guard officer quoted to the Court a document seized from Jové  which said:

“Depending on Spain’s response, we’ll adjust the intensity of the conflict.”

He explained that the ultimate goal of the pro-independence leaders was holding a referendum, stating:

“The referendum had to be done in order to take the next step: declaring independence.”

As further Civil Guard officers gave testimony the same version of events was repeated over and over as they denied that police use of force was disproportionate, with one even claiming that:

“The police actions were exemplary: there was no ‘massacre’ as they say in some places,”

On Wednesday a lawyer from Jordi Cuixart’s defence team, attempted to question one officer about his testimony about events at Cappont in Lleida province. The Presiding  Judge, Manuel Marchena, ruled this out of order on the slender basis that the Defence should only ask questions,  “that are of interest to the court.” Marchena seemed very grumpy when the lawyer replied that his question, was part of his client’s defence. 

Another officer claimed that voters had brought children with them as “human shields.” Another stated:

 “I saw a man with a small child. Bringing kids to a place where they could be injured… it doesn’t seem logical.”

It might be logical to ask why voters would not bring their family with them to vote not suspecting for one minute they would meet violence., and that afterwards they could continue to the park or to lunch.

Another Civil Guard officer talked of encountering of a “violent mob,” and when asked to describe what he faced said someone gave a “kick”, some “spat”,  and in one case, some voters were “throwing stones. ” However, under questioning from Defence lawyers this officer had to admit that he had not actually seen any stones in the air.

Judge Marchena’s refusal to allow Defence questions and in particular his refusal to allow film evidence contradicting the evidence given by Spanish Police concerning events at particular polling stations is creating growing concern among international observers of this trial. It is also creating a farcical situation whereby within seconds of a police officer given their account of such events film pops up on social media showing Spanish paramilitary police assaulting voters, often those with their hands in the air to demonstrate they are non-violent.

One officer if he was asked whether he saw a man unconscious on the ground outside a polling station after he had been removed by Spanish police from the group of protesters blocking the entry to the polling station. The officer replied, “I think so.” He was then asked if he saw that while this man was being attended  to a police charge drove back people who then fell on top of the man.

The officer said he saw that two people, doctors or physicians, attending to him prior to an ambulance arriving but he did not see people falling on top of him.

This went up almost immediately on Twitter showing events as they happened.

It also shows Marchena saying that these questions related to the officer’s “feelings,” were not of legal relevance and were not based on real facts!

Meanwhile Thursday saw Jordi Sanchéz, who heads the pro-independence  Junts per Catalunya  list in the Spanish general election, give a press conference over a video link from the Soto del Real prison outside Madrid after Spain’s Electoral Commission gave the go ahead. Pointing out that he had been held for 550 days in prison awaiting trial he stated:

“I have the certainty that I am innocent, nothing of what we’ve seen in our trial justifies prison.”

On Good Friday Oriol Junqueras, who heads the Left Republican Party of Catalonia was set to follow suit.

The Supreme Court has refused to allow Sanchéz, Junqueras and three others of the accused who are also on trial to be released for the duration of the election campaign.

Meanwhile the Council of Europe is going to investigate the situation of political prisoners in Spain and Turkey. For a Western European democracy to be placed together with Turkey over this issue is a damming indictment. The Spanish Government, of course, denied it has any political prisoners.

Finally, the Madrid newspaper El Pais reports that the overall situation in Spain, political, financial and economic and the Catalan question, is causing alarm within the European Union which fears increasing instability there.

The silence from Brussels over the trial of the 12 Catalan leaders continues, but growing numbers of Catalans expect little else, and this in a country which was one of the most pro-EU in Europe.

BRAVE NEW EUROPE is probably the independent international medium that has covered the Catalan Independence movement the most. It has provided the Catalan cause a platform to communicate with the rest of Europe, as well as posted many original articles on the topic. If this is the sort of media you wish to read and support, then please donate  here.

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