Chris Bambery – Two Realities: Catalonian and Spainish

Week 12 of the show trial conducted by Spain to convict the leaders of Catalonian struggle for independence Chris Bambery records how two realities apparently exist. On the one side the Spanish police, who report exclusively about violence exercised by Catalan citizens. On the other side we have Catalan citizens who report egregious brutality by the Spanish police. In a democratic court of law film material would be used to ascertain the truth, but not in Spain. In this article we provide some of this film material – there is much, much more.

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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There is one particular aspect of the trial of the 12 Catalan leaders at the Spanish Supreme Court, of which the 12th week has now ended. Part of the prosecution team is the secretary-general of Vox, Spain’s fascist party, Javier Ortega Smith, who is also a lawyer.

Back in November 2017, just weeks after the 1 October independence referendum in Catalonia, which had been declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court, Vox brought a private prosecution against Catalan leaders claiming they were responsible for “a clear attempt to subvert the constitutional order” which set out to “disintegrate the territorial unity of the State”, and to launch “subversive attack against the current constitutional order.”

Vox were then admitted to be part of the public prosecution, brought by the Spanish state. One of the defendants appealed to the Supreme Court against this, but it allowed the decision to stand. Joining Ortega Smith as a prosecutor is Pedro Fernández, Vox Legal Vice-Secretary.

Two witnesses have thus far refused to be questioned by Vox’s lawyers and incurred an immediate €2500 fine and will face charges for refusing to be questioned by what one of them , Eulàlia Reguant of the radical left Popular Unity party a “far right, and a sexist and xenophobic party.”

Last Monday the Vox prosecutors called Lluis Lach the Catalan singer and former deputy in the Catalan Parliament. Lach was a key figure in the Nova Cançó (perhaps best translated into English as New Wave), a group of singers who defied the dictatorship of General Franco by singing in Catalan, banned from public use.

Vox wanted to question Llach about events on 20 September 2017 when protesters gathered outside the Catalan Finance Ministry which was being raided by Spanish police. The prosecution is trying to portray this as a violent demonstration against the forces of the Spanish State; key to the charges against the 12 of rebellion and sedition.

Llach arrived in court wearing a yellow ribbon, in solidarity with Catalan political prisoners, and with a copy of a book by one of the accused, Raül Romeva, former Catalan Foreign Affairs Minister, which he placed on the table beside him as the gave evidence.

For a minute and more Llach answered Ortega Smith’s questions but then asked the presiding judge, Manuel Marchena, for permission to tell the court that “as a homosexual and pro-independence citizen, and aspiring citizen of the world” he disagreed with having to respond to the questions from Vox.

Marchena’s response was to tell Llach:

“The court respects your lifestyle completely, in absolutely everything. It only wants the proceedings to be carried out as established by law.”

This rather misses the moral issue raised about having to face questions from representatives of a party which is homophobic, intensely anti-Catalan and Francoist.

Crucially from the very start of his testimony Llach insisted on the peaceful nature of Catalan protests, including that outside the Finance Ministry. A crucial issue is the role of two of the accused, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, key leaders in pro-independence social movements, who the prosecution alleges egged on a violent crowd.

Llach went into great detail about how both men made strenuous efforts to prevent any violence and to allow the judicial team who were searching the building to leave without incident. He also stated it was he who suggested they get on top an unmanned Spanish police car which had been left outside the building to address the crowd. Llach pointed out:

“Excuse me for saying it, but never on stage have I had a reaction like that.”

On Tuesday the Supreme Court began to hear a completely different version of what happened in Catalonia in the autumn of 2017 than that presented by Spanish National Police and Civil Guard witnesses earlier. Their narrative was of peace loving officers confronted with violent protests.

Now the Court heard the testimony of people who were at polling stations on 1 October and had been assaulted by officers from these very same forces, and from local Mayors in areas where police violence occurred.

Joan Pau Salvador, was at the Sant Carles de la Ràpita school in the south of Catalonia and said that people in his polling station in Sant Carles de la Ràpita put their hands up, said ‘we just want to vote’, and said that without saying anything, the Spanish police began beating them.

When prosecutors were asked why he went to vote that day, Salvadó answered: ‘It was the most important day of my life.’ Adding: ‘I knew that voting wasn’t a crime. And I knew police should protect people, not beat them.’

Salvadó said people in the polling station were very scared; some voters fell to the floor and police began beating them on their heads. ‘I saw a lot of blood,’ he added when he went to the ambulance after Spanish police departed.

Another witness, Albert Salvadó, was at the polling station in Pabellón de la Ràpita, and testified: ‘The first officers brought people out without violence, but they were forceful. After, more police arrived, who exercised explicit violence. I saw several friends with shirts destroyed with blood.’

He denied there was any suggestion of violence on behalf of voters, adding there were insults to police but no threats.

‘I didn’t see any violence on part of the voters. First the police hit us in our midriff and then aimed for our heads afterward. About 30 people sat on the floor and the police brutally beat them,’ Salvadó testified.

The former mayor of Sabadell, Juli Fernàndez, also gave evidence saying that the Spanish police, “. ‘gave me a blow to my left cheek, my glasses fell to the floor, they dragged me, and when they left me outside, they kicked me twice in the back.’

He saw ‘no one’ physically opposing letting the police into the polling station. He said he saw ‘people being dragged’ by the officers.

Jordi Rubinat who was at the Sant Esteve Sesrovires polling station explained:

“We were aware it was a hugely important day in our lives. I stayed in the voting station all day because it was such an exceptional day. Nobody ordered me to, it was my own decision,’ Rubinat said. ‘The police arrived and beat people indiscriminately. If they gave any warning, I didn’t hear it, and they didn’t give us time to leave.’

He was followed in the dock by the mayor of San Esteve Sesrovires, Maria Carme del Rallo, who told the Court:

‘The police came in forcefully. I saw them viciously hit a neighbour of mine in the head.’ She also spoke about how the police broke doors in the school where the voting station was.

She was followed by Emili Gaya, who was also present at the Sant Esteve Sesrovires polling station and testified:

‘The police arrived at 6pm, when we thought they weren’t going to show up. They arrived in a formation that nobody had ever seen before. They hit me in the head and I fell.’

She explained: ‘The police charge was completely disproportionate. We sang “We are people of peace” as they beat us. I fell to the floor and people tried to help me up, and police began beating those trying to help me. There were a lot of tears that day.’

She also added that nobody in the polling station hit police, but only tried to protect themselves against an unexpected ‘aggression’ by Spanish police.

Ferran Soler, voted in Dosrius, and was treated by medical staff for injuries he received that day, telling the Court:

‘At the school, a police sergeant punched me in the face that split my brow open, and hit me with the baton that injured my finger. People screamed and I saw how another policeman, with dark glasses, punched another person who was not doing anything.

Soler explained:

‘At no point did we try to prevent the police from taking the ballot box because we knew they were going to do it, we just wanted to show our disagreement.’

The mayor of Sant Julià de Ramis at the time, Marc Puigtió told the Court:  ‘I went to the voting station first thing in the morning, there were a lot of journalists as it’s where president Puigdemont was to vote. But the police came first.’

‘The Spanish police arrived and started beating people immediately. They left people unconscious and wouldn’t let the ambulance arrive. There were more Guardia Civil Spanish police than there were voters.’

After the lunch break Laura Castell gave evidence  first telling the Court that Spanish police beat her from behind, giving her ‘no chance of anticipating’ the attack, and that she was taking photographs at the time, ‘not threatening’.

She went on to tell the Court this:

‘It was surprising because even though the ballot boxes had already been confiscated, the riot police didn’t leave. I then heard two shots and they began beating us. The violence was extreme and indiscriminate.’

A Catalan MP for the Left Republican Part, Jordi Salvador, said that when Spanish police arrived at his polling station he identified himself to them but it made no difference:

‘They grabbed me and beat me. In all my life I never saw anything like it.’

Jordina Carbó, who voted in Barcelona, even told the Court that she and others in her voting station helped police with confiscating the voting material, adding ‘we didn’t offer any resistance.’

She went on to say that she had seen a Spanish police officer approach a pregnant woman, when a man then put himself in front of the woman only to be thrown to the ground by an officer.

A voter at Sant Cebrià de Vallalta, Jordi Torrent, told the Court:

‘Police officers broke into the polling places and smashed open the doors with a sledgehammer. Nobody injured any police officers; I saw everything with my own eyes.”

You can watch Spanish police outside the Sant Cebrià de Vallalta polling station HERE

Jordina Freixanet, witnessed the Spanish police operation at a polling station in Alcarràs, and testified that said she didn’t see any citizen attacking police officers.

You can watch events at Alcarràs HERE

Ramon Antoni Forteza was at a polling station in Lleida on 1 October 2017 and told the Court:

‘Police officers were beating a 65-year old woman who was on the ground. I told them to stop, that they were mad. They started beating me.’

The head of the Catalan health service (CatSalut) at the time of the referendum, David Elvira, also gave testimony, reporting that 1,066 people were attended by health workers, including 12 police officers. The most common ailments were contusions, multiple injuries, traumas and fractures.

The verdict in this trial must rest on which narrative the Supreme Court believes; that of those Catalan citizens trying to vote on that day or doing their civic duty, or that of the Spanish Police.

On the Monday a number of international Parliamentarians gave evidence regarding the character and non-violent beliefs of some of the accused. Among them was Portuguese Socialist MEP Ana Gomes who told the court that on 1st October 2017 she was with her grandchildren and saw on the TV news what was happening in Catalonia. That same day there were also elections in Portugal, and when she said to her grandchildren she was going to vote, they told her: “but grandma, it’s dangerous, don’t you see what’s happening?” “That’s not here, unfortunately it is in Spain, there’s no danger here,” replied Gomes. Judge Marchena then cut her off, claiming this did not contribute anything to the case.

In Psalm 8:2, it says “God ordains strength out of the mouth of babes and sucklings.” In this case Ana Gomes’s grandchildren seem to have contributed much sense to this case!

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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