Chris Bambery – Spain: Repression of voting is not democracy

Have Catalan voters a predilection for head butting the truncheons of Spanish riot police? If you believe the evidence given by Spanish police witnesses so far in the trial of the12 Catalan leaders at Spain’s Supreme Court the answer must be yes, because the picture they paint of events in Catalonia on 1 October 2017, the day of the Catalan independence referendum, is one of non-violent Spanish police facing violent Catalan voters.

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.

Week 13 of the trial of the twelve Catalonian leaders on charges of rebellion and sedition in relation to that referendum began with Catalan voters once more giving testimony on their experience that day, an experience totally at odds with that of Spanish police.

So the first witness was Joan Porras, a university student and football referee from the city of Manresa. He revealed for the first time that he was the person who went every night to Lledoners prison to shout good night to the 10 male accused (all were initially held in preventative detention outside Madrid, then they were allowed to be transferred to Catalan prisons before being returned to Madrid in the build up to the trial).

Porras explained to the Court how Catalan police (the Mossos d’Esquadra) came to his polling station in Manresa to close it down and confiscated ballot boxes without causing any damage but in contrast described Spanish police batoning voters. The Prosecution asked him if he knew that the referendum was illegal under Spanish law and Porras replied: “If voting is a crime we would have two million Catalans sitting here.”

Virginia Martínez, who also voted in Dosrius explained to the Court that: “We were there to defend our right to vote.”

She went onto describe how she was thrown to the ground by a Civil Guard officer and began to cry. Undeterred he grabbed her bag to look for an ID. Martínez recounted that another officer filmed her crying, telling her she was acting ‘ridiculously’, and calling her a ‘retard’.

The third witness, Pere Sitjà another voter in Dosrius, described to the Court how his wife and others were thrown to the ground by the Guardia Civil (the notorious Spanish police):

“They began by throwing the women to the ground. Then they pushed us up against a wall.”

The final witness from Dosrius, Carme Budé, began her testimony by explaining: “I knew the referendum was suspended, but I believe voting is the essence of democracy. I’d like to understand why it was prohibited”.

Initially Budé planned to be at the polling station for just a couple of hours but after videos of Spanish police violence elsewhere she decided to stay: “I didn’t want to go and leave my friends and neighbours there.”

The film of what happened when the Guardia Civil arrived at the polling station in Dosrius on 1 October 2017 is publican available. What happened there was something I have not seen in a Western democracy aside from similar attacks on civil rights protesters in the Southern States of America in the early 1960s.

Continuing, Pere Font , an elderly witness from Barcelona, told the Court that a Spanish police officer grabbed him by the testicles and then threw him to the ground. When Font complained the officer told him: ‘They sent us here to do this,” and then a woman officer punched him in the face.

The trial continued into Day 41 on Wednesday with further evidence of Catalan voters. From Badalona, Guillem Galcerán, told the court that at his polling station Catalan police closed it down, in contradiction to Spanish police evidence that the Mossos refused to act to stop the vote, a crucial part of their narrative of a Catalan rebellion ordered by the 12 defendants.

From the Region of Tarragona region, Marga Borràs, told how Catalan police repeatedly trying to close down her polling station, but were thwarted by the hundreds of people packed into it.

The evidence of Agustí Valls, from La Pobla de Mafumet, also in the Tarragona region, gave a picture of that day that was far from the picture of insurrection painted by the Prosecution. He was one of those occupying the station before voting commenced and recalled: ‘I’m a musician and I brought my saxophone, others played the guitar, so we all sang together,’ he said.

A number of other witnesses testified that Catalan Police did try to enter their polling stations to stop the voting but were blocked by the large number of peaceful protesters blocking their way or occupying the building.

Montse Higueras, a Barcelona voter, explained that the Catalan police told them the referendum couldn’t go ahead, but that the voters ‘peacefully’ resisted and went ahead with the vote anyway. ‘Between us, the neighbours self-organised ourselves,’ she explained.

Similar testimonies from voters were heard on the Thursday. Interestingly, one was from a retired Spanish National Police officer, Nemesio Fuentes, who voted that day and spoke of the ‘aggressive’ manner of the Guardia Civil when they arrived to stop citizens voting: ‘At no point did the Spanish police explain what they were doing. They attacked my three sons. Nobody attacked the police, bar one citizen who threw a chair at them, but I feel the officer didn’t fall from the chair, but slipped on the glass.’ (The police had broken the glass doors to enter)

Meanwhile the Spanish state and judiciary face another headache after four of the prisoners succeeded in being elected to the Spanish Parliament and one to Congress (the lower house of Spain’s parliament). Each has asked to be allowed to take their seats in parliament.

The Spanish Attorney General has opposed the release of the five prisoners so they can take their Parliamentary seats. The matter will now be decided by the very same Supreme Court where they are on trial.

According to one source inside the Spanish Congress arrangements have been made if the five attend: “They will be transported from Soto del Real prison by the Guardia Civil, who will then hand them over to the National Police Corps. This is the same procedure followed on days when the trial at the Supreme Court is in session. They would enter the chamber through the underground car park, taking the lifts up into the building, passing through the police office. “Common sense says the least fuss possible must be made,” the sources say.

For the National Police Corps, this means avoiding images of the prisoners in handcuffs, which could affect their dignity.”

Since when are the Spanish police concerned about the dignity of Catalan civilians?

Matters will become even more complicated after the European elections when former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, now in exile in Belgium, and former Vice President, Oriol Junqueras, already an MP and one of the defendants in this trial, are likely to be among those elected to the European Parliament.

The Supreme Court had decided that Puigdemont and two other exiles, Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin, could be elected as it found no grounds as to why they should not stand in the European elections. Spain’s Electoral Commission had ruled this out and then a Madrid court had ordered their removal as candidates. The Supreme Court asked that same court to reverse its verdict, which it in the meantime has done.

The Spanish Constitutional Court then threw out appeals from both Ciudadanos and the popular Party asking for this decision to be reversed once more.

Puigdemont has already made clear, that should he be elected, he will seek Parliamentary immunity allowing him to return to Spain, the only country in the EU he cannot enter after a German Court threw out a Spanish extradition request because it could not accept the charge of rebellion made against him because of the peaceful nature of the Catalan protests on 1 October 2017.

It is worth noting the number of crucial political decisions made by the Spanish judiciary, many of whom are political appointees, and the cross over which sees Supreme Court judges , including those hearing the case against the Catalan 12, sitting on the country’s Electoral Commission.

Meanwhile, the trial looks likely to run over time while the question of what to do with the five elected prisoners is decided and if they are allowed to take their seats.

Spanish Governments of both the centre right and the centre left have vehemently denied Spain has any political prisoners. Leaving aside the charges against the 12 of rebellion and sedition are clearly political, Spain is now in a position where it is prosecuting its own Parliamentarians. Surely that is political? The likelihood of Catalan prisoners and exiles being elected to the European Parliament will also present a challenge to the EU. How will it react if Spain does not offer immunity to Puigdemont and others or if Spain refuses to allow Junqueras to go to Brussels to take his seat?

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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