Week 9 of the trial of leaders of the Catalan independence movement in Spain. Is this the sort of justice in store for EU citizens as the Union enters an increasing crisis?
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)
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You would expect that a former Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and his former Assistant Chief Constable to know a thing or two about public order. Not according to the Spanish Supreme Court they don’t.
Sir Hugh Orde held that post from 2002 until 2009 and Duncan McCausland was his deputy. Orde was also President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, representing 44 police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The two men were asked to investigate events at the Catalan Finance Ministry when it was raided and occupied by Spanish paramilitary police on 20 September 2017. The building was taken over in an attempt to find evidence of public funds being used to finance a referendum on Catalan independence declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court.
Almost immediately protesters gathered outside. Jordi Cuixart, President of Omnium, the largest Catalan cultural organisation, and Jordi Sanchéz, then President of the Catalan National Assembly, the largest pro-independence social movement, are charged with rebellion and crucially of inciting violence on that day. If found guilty they face 17 years in jail.
Orde and McCausland were asked by their defence team to investigate what happened and trawled through hours upon hours of CCTV of events outside the Finance Ministry and concluded:
“The demonstrators gathered in front of the Catalan economy ministry were a peaceful crowd”.
Regarding Sànchez and Cuixart who addressed the crowd outside the Ministry the two experts found that they had a “certain degree of authority” over the protesters, and that “there was one theme which was repeated in all their speeches: they insisted that the gathering should be peaceful and to isolate violent acts”.
The two British officers say the search “was carried out without any hindrance from the growing crowd outside and that people were entering and leaving the building without any apparent difficulty”.
They also found that, “a reduced group of people found themselves involved, individually, in destroying the Civil Guard vehicles parked in front of the department and then stood up to the Mossos when the demonstration was dissolved”. But they also stated that Sànchez or Cuixart any were not to blame for these incidents.
Their 120-page report also examined more than 200 videos of Spanish police actions on 1 October 2017, the day the referendum took place. At each polling station were film was available they concluded voters’ took part in “peaceful resistance” and “without violence”.
The seven Supreme Court judges hearing the trial of Cuixart, Sanchéz and 10 other Catalan leaders barred the report being allowed as evidence, ruling: “This expert can only bring his appreciable experience in historic conflicts gathered in other countries and does not have direct experience of the events being judged.”
Cuixart’s defence team were also barred from hearing testimony from Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work in banning anti-personnel landmines and later became chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative involving five of her fellow living female recipients of the peace prize.
In response she was sharply critical of what she called a political trial and in particular evidence from Spanish Police officers, criticising the Court’s ban on “showing evidence which counters a police officer who is lying”.
The issue of who is lying is now central to this trial because there are two very different versions of events in Catalonia in the autumn of 2017 at contest. One is that the country was in a state of violent rebellion, as testified by Spanish Police officers deployed to stop voting, and the version offered by Orde and McCausland’s report, various Parliamentary and legal observers in Catalonia on 1 October 2017 and countless news reports on that day.
Undeterred Week nine of the trial continued with evidence held over from the previous week of Spanish Civil Guard officers deployed to stop voting in the 1 October 2017 Catalan independence referendum.
The first officer was deployed in the town of Sant Carles de la Ràpita, and claimed that voters there “threw stones” at police.
The next officer to take the stand had been deployed in Vilabella on referendum day, and he told the court of “kicks,” “spitting” and “pushing” by voters.
The third stated under oath that in Mont-roig del Camp on referendum day his finger was injured, for which he had to undergo surgery.
You can watch a film of Spanish police actions at Sant Carles de la Ràpita, Vilabella and at Mont-roig del Camp on 1 October 2017 and judge what occurred for yourself. The defence in the trial has been refused permission to play film such as this in response to the version of events presented by Civil Guard officers.
Next up were officers of the Spanish National Police. One officer gave testimony under oath regarding events at the Joan Boscà polling station in Barcelona stating that some of those gathered there wore “two motorcycle helmets on each arm,” which he claimed were so they could attack police and that, “we suspected they knew that we were coming.”
This officer said that leaving the polling station after the police raid was “the most difficult part,” stating that hit police vehicles, “punching” cars, and that rocks and glass bottles were thrown and officers were called “animals” and “fascists.”
Another officer, who was carrying out surveillance duties on 1 October, testified that he saw voters carrying “sticks, helmets, and chains.” Claiming they displayed “a violent attitude,” he then stated that he had not seen any concrete act of violence.
Yet another stated that it was “dangerous” for Spanish police officers to enter polling stations on that day, alleging that voters blocked the entrance and shoving officers when they were seizing ballot boxes, ballot papers and other voting material.
One police witness said voters were “very aggressive” because they were “throwing objects,” but, when cross-examined by the defence, he could not identify what the objects being thrown were.
Presiding Judge Manuel Marchena intervened to ask: “Did you see voters throwing objects, yes, or no?”
The witness’ reply was: “No.”
Throughout the evidence of the Spanish National Police officers there were allegations made against the Catalan police, the Mossos, with one officer saying he was followed by two Mossos officers who were using a Catalan Government car. Another reported that Spanish police had not even considered co-operating with the Mossos over the operation to stop voting on 1 October.
This is part of a narrative which flows into a picture of semi-insurrection in Catalonia at the time of the referendum which is vital to making charges of rebellion and sedition stick, and the reference to Mossos officers using a Government car would be part of trying to prove charges of misusing public funds.
A complicating factor for the Spanish Court is that five of the defendants are candidates in the Spanish general election to be held on 28 April. In a separate hearing the Supreme Court had to decide on a request that they be released from preventative detention for the duration of the campaign.
The Supreme Court decided it would let the Spanish Electoral Commission, which is in charge of voting; decide on a request by one candidate, Jordi Sànchez, heading the electoral list of one of the main Catalan pro-independence parties, that he can debate in prison with his opposite number in the other main pro-independence party, Oriol Junqueras, also in preventative detention. He has also requested permission to hold election rallies in the jail.
The Spanish Home Affairs Ministry subsequently ruled against Junqueras’ request to hold rallies in the Soto del Real prison outside Madrid.
Following on the Supreme Court ruled against releasing the five accused so they could campaign in the election claiming they might flee the country causing “an important dysfunction” in the trial.
Lawyers for the five had argued that rather being held in jail the five could have been fitted with electric monitors but the Court ruled that would be “insufficient.”
To round off the week the Supreme Court upheld the right of the fascist Vox party to join the prosecution team against Catalan President Quim Torra, charged with not being quick enough to comply with an order from the Electoral Commission to remove yellow ribbons, the symbol of solidarity with Catalan political prisoners, from all Government buildings.
At the same time it rejected Torra’s request that it try Spanish Police officers involved in the arrests of 15 pro-independence activists seized in police raids in Girona in January. The 15, including a Mayor of a local town and a councillor in another, were detained over breaches public order, which allegedly occurred at a demonstration in Girona on the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Spanish Constitution and over the blocking of the high speed railway line.
Normally anyone summoned for public order offences would be so by letter not by police raiding your house and dragging you off to a cell.
Campaigning in the Spanish general election, to be held on 28 April, is now underway. The trial of the 12 will break for Easter but it and other events in Catalonia are casting a long shadow over it, not least because the three right wing parties, the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox, as to who takes the hardest stand against Catalan democracy.