Chris Bambery – Trial of Catalan Independence Leaders: Spain and the EU Versus the UN and Justice

The Catalans, like the Greeks before them, are learning what to expect from the EU. The Spanish government, now led by the Social Democrats, is learning that you can defy justice in the EU, when it serves the interests of the EU regimen, even asking that two renowned UN experts to be dismissed for their damning report concerning the course of justice in this trial.

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.

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Last Wednesday the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released a report demanding the “immediate” release of three Catalan pro-independence leaders: Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Cuixart and Oriol Junqueras.

The report by the UN group considered their detention and imprisonment to be a violation of fundamental rights, especially freedom of speech, and called for compensation for all three.

Ben Emmerson QC, the British barrister representing the three jailed Catalan leaders, said: “This decision should mark a turning point in Spanish policy towards Catalonia. Spain is acting in flagrant violation of international law, and it had been called out by the UN body with ultimate authority on the question of arbitrary detention.”

Emmerson specialises in human rights and international criminal law and has appeared before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the International Criminal Court in the Hague and the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Incredibly the Spanish Socialist government released a statement that evening casting doubt on the “impartiality” and “independence” of the report. made public on Wednesday, which demanded the “immediate” release of three Catalan pro-independence leaders.

The statement was issued the Government’s executive headed by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and stated that it is “especially serious” that the paper was published “shortly before the case against the defendants is over in the Supreme Court.”

“It is a sad circumstance that could be interpreted as interference in the criminal case underway.”

It also called on the officials in charge of supervising the working group to “strengthen the accuracy, independence and equanimity of their work, and to remain vigilant in facing the attempts of manipulation and misinformation to which they might be subject.”

One might ask why they have not questioned the impartiality of the Supreme Court judges hearing the trial, whom many are political appointees made by the previous right wing Popular Party Government?

The defence lawyer for two of the accused, Andreu Van den Eynde, responded to Working Group’s report on Catalan radio stating:

“If the release of the prisoners is not achieved now, then all avenues have been closed off.”

He added that now the trial of Catalan pro-independence leaders in the Supreme Court is drawing to a close “all the reasons for their release are coming together.”

In response to the Spanish State Prosecutor’s confirmation that they will continue to press charges of rebellion against the accused, which carry prison sentence of up to 25 years, Van den Eynde said that it showed “stubbornness” as attempts to “justify” its position by “not budging a millimetre.”

The Spanish Public Prosecutors in the trial continue to maintain that the accused promoted a strategy that was “perfectly planned, concerted and organized” in order to fracture Spain’s constitutional order with the aim of achieving Catalonia’s independence. They describe this as “patent insurrection,” and that this insurrection took place period from 19 September through the 1 October Catalan independence referendum until 27 October, 2017, when the Catalan Parliament voted for a declaration of unilateral independence.

Meanwhile a new phase in the trial of the Catalan 12 began in Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday, with the next three days devoted to showing hundreds of videos of what happened in the lead-up and during the independence referendum in 2017, the period of supposed insurrection.

The Court had banned defence lawyers from showing videos or images to support or contrast which contradicted Spanish Police witnesses when they said they acted entirely peacefully that Autumn.

It got off to a bad start after the Public prosecutors went first, showing a serious lack of preparation. One of them, Jaime Moreno told the Court that he was “unable” to say where various videos he offered as evidence were recorded, despite repeated requests from defence counsel.

Moreno made mistakes over the times and dates when they were recorded, after they were shown in no apparent chronological order or with no geographical location, and some of them were repeated!

When challenged by defence lawyers. Moreno replied stating:

“I’d love to be able to say that it’s a specific place, but I’m unable to know that exactly

The presiding judge, Manuel Marchena, noted this response and the defence’s protest, but allowed the video concerned to be viewed without the information as to location, date or time.

The defence lawyers then asked that, even if prosecutors couldn’t say where they were filmed, they should at least provide the date of recording, given that the videos were being displayed in a mixed order.

The prosecution’s reply was that they were being “asked for an identification which is going to add nothing with respect to what the defence know”. Regarding one video he was able to say it was recorded “at the CUP”, referring to headquarters of the radical left Popular Unity Party when Spanish Police raided it, and that another showed “Hotel Avenida, a protest at the place where the police were staying”. He explained that their aim was not to discuss specific events at these locations, but to give an idea of the “atmosphere at all the polling stations and in all places”.

At this, Judge Marchena warned the prosecutor about avoiding evaluation. A defence insisted on the “special importance” of being able to precisely identify video evidence so that it could be compared to the earlier testimony of Spanish Police, adding, “it’s not a whim of the defence.”

Judge Marchena’s response was that there was “no obstacle” being presented by the court to the request, that instead “the problem […] is that there are times when this information isn’t available [to the prosecution]”. The prosecution were then allowed to continue showing their videos.

As the Prosecution continued to show their video evidence they managed to get some of the dates and times seriously wrong. One video showed protesters blockading the high-speed trains at Barcelona-Sants station. They said this was shot on 3 October 2017. In fact, it was recorded on 8, November 2017. The judge also had to stop the showing of videos twice by prosecutors.

That afternoon the defence presented its list of proposed evidence, ‘expressly’ asking that images and videos showing the ‘violence’ of Spanish police during the 1 October referendum be shown in court.

Whilst the Attorney General did not object to showing the videos that the defence demanded, the Solicitor General and the ‘popular prosecutors’, who represent the fascist Vox party, argued that showing the videos would be unnecessary.

Among the first videos shown by the defence was one of a La Sexta TV interview with Jordi Cuixart, one of the imprisoned pro-independence activists, where he openly rejects ‘violence and non-democratic behaviour’.

The prosecution has gone to great lengths to portray Cuixart of inciting violence.

A number of films shown concerned Spanish Police actions on the day of the independence referendum, 1 October 2017, showing images of police violence against peaceful voters and protestors at numerous locations across Catalonia.

They included Spanish Civil Guards breaking down the door of a polling station in Sant Julia de Ramis, where former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was due to vote. Spanish Police mounted a huge effort including helicopter to, unsuccessfully, prevent Puigdemont voting.

In contrast to the prosecution, the defence team could provide precise background information for each of the videos they had chosen including when and where each of the videos had been filmed.

This coming Monday the prosecution team are expected to make their closing arguments, including which charges they want pressed on each of the 12. The defence will present their summary on 10 June and then the defendants can address the Court.

In total, the Spanish Attorney General has requested prison sentences totalling 177 years for the 12 pro-independence leaders accused, including a 25-year jail term for Oriol Junqueras, the vice president at the time of the vote and the highest-ranking official on trial.

The prosecutor has also requested 17 years in jail for the parliament speaker at the time, Carme Forcadell, as well as for activists Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, and a 16-year jail term for former ministers Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Dolors Bassa, Raül Romeva, and Joaquim Forn.

Meanwhile, the private prosecutor representing Vox party is 74 years in prison for the former ministers, and 62 years for Sànchez and Cuixart.

Meanwhile the Board of the Spanish Parliament, chaired by a Socialist Party MP, blocked four of the jailed Catalans who had been elected to Parliament from taking their seats, after they had been allowed to be sworn into office. The equivalent body in the Senate followed this by suspending another of the accused, Raül Romevo, following him being elected and sworn in.

On Wednesday the European Parliament stopped two newly elected Catalan MEPs, former Catalan president Puigdemont and Toni Comín entering the building, both are in exile in Belgium. European Parliament sources said that the two MEPs might not be allowed inside until they have ‘effectively registered’ as MEPs – in other words that they must return to Spain and risk arrest in order to assume their posts.

Speaking in front of the European Parliament, Puigdemont dismissed the decision as a ‘dirty game,’ stating:

‘We hope the European Parliament doesn’t follow the same path as the Spanish authorities and their tendency to violate fundamental rights.’

The authorities in Madrid and Brussels seem to share a warped idea of justice and democracy.

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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