Chris Bambery – Spain: Kangaroos Instead of Judges

For those of you who are not familiar with the term Kangaroo Court, it means: An unofficial court held by a group of people in order to try someone regarded, especially without good evidence, as guilty of a crime.

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.

Something strange happened on the opening day of the fifth week of the trial of 12 Catalan leaders at the Spanish Supreme Court. At lunchtime the Court had to suspend the trial, despite a back log of witnesses and pressure on time, while two judges,  Luciano Varela and Ana María Ferrer, could go to Spain’s Congress for a meeting of the country’s electoral board, which sets the rules for the current general election proceedings.

That two Supreme Court judges should also be on the Electoral Board seems strange but what the Electoral Board was to decide upon made matters more sinister than strange. It was a complaint from the neo-liberal Ciudadanos Party, which competes with the right wing Popular Party and the fascist Vox, as to who takes the hardest line on not just Catalan independence but its autonomy within Spain.

Ciudadanos was demanding the removal of the yellow ribbons, a sign of support for the Catalan 12 on trial in Madrid and other political prisoners and exiles, from public buildings. The Electoral Board agreed and ordered their removal. The Catalan President, Quim Torra, subsequently said he would not comply.

The Electoral Board then explained that Varela and Ana Ferrer had abstained and the Supreme Court announced that the two judges won’t take part again in Electoral Board meetings which “have anything to do with the legal process”.

Yet these two judges are judging a case against a number of leading Catalan figures who are candidates in the current general election. That is public knowledge. The fact the two judges abstained the fact they are part of the Electoral Board, that they took part in the meeting and intend to take part in future ones raises fresh question about the neutrality of the Spanish judiciary given the numbers of politically appointed judges and the involvement of some in striking down Catalan legislation, from that authorising an independence referendum on 1 October 2017, which the current trial centres on, to a ban on bullfighting.

Some cynics might ask what the Electoral Board might make of candidates representing Catalan pro-independence being tried during the election with a prosecution which includes representatives of Vox, whose private prosecution has been included within the state led one.

The fifth week of the trial started with questions about Catalan government funds which might have been used to finance the 1 October 2017 referendum; the 12 have all been charged with misuse of public funds, as well as rebellion and sedition.

So the former Director of the Catalan Public Diplomacy Council (Diplocat), Alberto Royo (who faces trial later regarding all this) about Diplocat “hiring” international observers who came to oversee polling. Spanish police said Royo paid out €217,656. He explained that Diplocat paid for flights and accommodation but this was considered usual stating:

“It is part of our role, which is helping explain Catalonia abroad. How come what we did in 2017 is seen as a crime due to the political situation, when we were already doing it in 2015 and 2016?”

Previously the Court had quizzed various website designers and others trying to establish that Catalan Government funds were used for election material. They found nothing, not one invoice or receipt, and seemed genuinely puzzled that people in Catalonia might give their services free to a cause in which they believed or that the mass movement in support of independence could generate its own funds.  

But on Thursday last week the trial returned to trying to establish crimes of rebellion and sedition with the testimony of the former   commander of the Mossos d’Esquadra  (the Catalan police responsible to the Catalan Government) ,   Josep  Lluís Trapero.   In the immediate wake of the referendum, with Spain taking over direct rule of Catalonia, he was removed by Madrid and now awaits trial too.

Earlier the Spanish Civil Guard and National Police commanders of the operation to stop the referendum had accused Trapero and his officers of not co-operating with them. The accusation was that they were in league with the Catalan Government in defying the Spanish Constitutional Court which had banned that vote.

Trapero told the Court:

“The Catalan police urged the government to comply with legality and court orders, because that’s what we were going to do.”

 Quizzed by Vox’s prosecutor about this he said that the Mossos had closed 134 polling stations while they ensured 250 had not opened. Further they seized 432 ballot boxes, 90,000 ballots, 70,000 envelopes, four computers, a mobile phone and documents. Trapero said:

“The Catalan police operation had no objective other than complying with court orders.”

He added that he had felt “uncomfortable with the political situation in Catalonia  ahead of the referendum vote” and described some of the comments by the then Catalan Minister for Home Affairs, Joaquim Forn, particularly his statement that the Mossos would allow voting to proceed, as being “irresponsible.” He also said he had advised then Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont to call off the referendum. Puidgemont is in exile in Belgium after a German Court refused an extradition order from Spain, and Forn is one of those accused in this trial.

In his testimony, Trapero said that given the “seriousness” of the situation, the Mossos had a unit of officers ready to detain the government two days before the Catalan Parliament had voted to declare independence in the wake of the referendum, and that he had reported this to the Spanish judicial authorities.”

Regarding the policing of the referendum Trapero said he had not known beforehand that Pérez de los Cobos, the senior officer in Spain’s Civil Guard would be the co-ordinator of the operation to stop the vote until their first meeting. The Spaniard had told the court that Trapero and the Mossos had not done enough to stop voting.

More tellingly Trapero recorded feeling a “certain tension” with Pérez de los Cobos because they had different criterias regarding the use of force. During meetings to co-ordinate action to stop the referendum the Civil Guard and National Police gave little information regarding their plans:

 “Spanish Civil Guard only presented a draft with little information. Spanish National Police didn’t present anything. We presented an action plan for a police operation.”

The charges of rebellion and sedition (long removed from the statute book elsewhere in Europe) rest on the notion the Catalan Government and independence movement was ready to launch an insurrection. Yet the only armed force the Catalan Government controlled was the Mossos and no-one is alleging they tried to win them over to rebellion.  Nor when the Catalan Parliament voted to declare an independent Catalan Republic was there any attempt to issue arms or to call on the people to rise up. In fact in retrospect the Catalan leadership seemed to believe this might bring the Spanish Government to the negotiating table or provoke European Union mediation – their naivety is touching.

The 12 defendants are accused of provoking Spanish police violence by holding the referendum but all twelve have pointed to the Catalan pro-independence movement’s total commitment to non-violence. Images and film contrasting the violence of Spanish police on 1 October in smashing their way into polling stations, batoning voters and using rubber bullets (one protester lost an eye) with the non-violent response by those trying to defend voting.

Accordingly, the defence teams have presented a complaint to the Supreme Court denouncing the obstacles that senior  judge Manuel Marchena is  putting up regrading the use of film of Spanish police actions on and around 1 October 2017. Next week Civil Guard officers will appear in court. The defence teams argue such film is indispensable in countering the version of events given by those officers regarding their actions that day. The defence says that if the Court will not allow this it would contradict the Spanish Constitution – which sets down the right of all citizens to use the means of evidence that they deem appropriate for their defence – as well as in the rights of the accused according to the European Convention on Human Rights.

As the trial proceeds more and more legal experts and political figures across Europe are expressing their concerns about this trial, particularly over the neutrality of the neutrality of the Supreme Court Judges. The publicity it is receiving globally must be causing headaches in Madrid too. More than one commentator has drawn a comparison with Stalin’s show trials. It is one the Spanish elite do not want to hear.

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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