Chris Bambery – Who needs justice when one has the Spanish Supreme Court?

Week 7 of the trial of leaders of the Catalan independence movement in Spain.

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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Week seven of the trial of the 12 Catalan leaders on trial at the Spanish Supreme Court on charges of rebellion and sedition began with the accused being denied access to friends and family attending the trial.

Until last Monday the situation was that having brought from prison’s outside Madrid and then ferried back, thus leaving very early often and returning very late, once at the court on route to the trial chamber they were prevented accessing the public with corridors blocked off, windows shut and doors covered with screens.

Then they were the first to enter the court with the public arriving later and then they were first to leave, passing the public benches and thus being able to greet and exchange a few words and even a hug with friends and family.

Since last Monday they now remain in their seats while the public leave first. This is a police decision because it is claimed a member of the public had insulted a defendant and it is designed “to protect them.”

The affect is to further isolate the 12 accused who have been held in confinement pre-trial for up to a year and a half in the case of two of the accused, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchéz.

The trial began last Monday with a key witness, the senior Civil Guard officer who was the head of the judicial police in Catalonia in 2017, Daniel Baena. He wrote a key report for the investigation which led to the 12 being charged with rebellion and sedition.

Giving evidence Baena explained that the investigation into the independence movement began in 2015, and the first court inquiry followed in March 2017. After the 20 September raids on Catalan Government Ministries and the protests that followed, Baena said a judge saw possible grounds for charges of sedition.

Asked about the investigation beginning in 2016, long before the Spanish Constitutional Court that declared the referendum illegal in September 2017, Baena explained they had been investigating individuals, not organisations like ANC or Òmnium and that at one point they wanted to attach a tracking device to a car, but the judge to whom they had to apply disallowed it.

He described the period between 20 September and 28 October 2017 (the day the Catalan Parliament voted in favour of a declaration of independence) as an “insurrectionary period,” despite complaints from the defence team.

He described Catalonia at this time as a “a powder keg,” going on to state:

“Those days, all of us police who had a minimum level of responsibility knew that any small incident could lead to an uncontrollable escalation, but fortunately that didn’t happen… We found out that the referendum was not their goal, but a cornerstone for a unilateral declaration of independence or to put the Spanish state in a situation of conflict.”

In support of this Baena testified: “We investigated the development of devolved powers to create structures for a new state.”

What they discovered he said were documents relating to ID, tax, border controls, VAT and an “inventory of Spain’s assets in Catalonia.”

When asked by the lawyer representing former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras and former minister Raül Romeva, if any of his clients did ever incite people to use violence in all the messages he analysed Baena replied,. “No, never.”

On the Wednesday and Thursday the court heard testimony from Civil Guard officers, the Spanish paramilitary police sent to Catalonia to prevent the referendum happening.

Central to accusations of violent protests was the damage done to Civil Guard vehicles left outside the Catalan Finance Ministry when the Spanish paramilitary police raided the building ten days before the 2017 Catalan independence referendum.

Originally it was reported that the Civil Guard left three outside. Now prosecutors at the trial say it was seven.

Yet not all the damage reported was carried out by protesters. The officer in charge of security of the raiding team was asked by Jordi Sanchéz’s lawyer:

“When you left the ministry, in the small hours of the morning, to go up to the police vehicles, did you use a mace to break any of the windows to verify what was inside the police vehicle?”.

The officer replied: “Yes, two.”

The Civil Guard has said firearms were left in the unguarded cars but have not accused protesters of trying to take them, let alone use them.

Among the things left inside the unguarded vehicles that day were firearms.

The officer also said that the firearms left in the unguarded police vehicles had “real ammunition,” contradicting a previous testimony from the former head of the Guardia Civil, Ángel Gozalo, who had said that they had non-lethal ammunition, such as rubber bullets.

The defence pointed to differences in this officer’s testimony and what he had stated under investigation pre-trial.

Responding to several statements by officers regarding the danger they were in Sanchéz’s lawyer pointed out that painters and decorators had continued to work in the building throughout. It was also revealed that the two ringleaders of the supposedly threatening protest outside the Finance Ministry, Catalan National Assembly President Sanchéz and Omnium President, Jordi Cuixart, were in dialogue with the officer in charge of the raid and even gave him their mobile phones.

The court was told by a Civil Guard officer that:

“I saw how people wanted to break into the building. The gates were made of iron and wood, but they were collapsing. Police officers had to hold them up,”

He added:  “At 10am I was at the entrance of the finance ministry. There was a crowd screaming, harassing, intimidating… They were on vehicles,” the officer told the court.”

He went on to claim that there  was “an objective and obvious risk” of protesters “attacking” Guardia Civil police officers:

On Thursday 29 March several more Spanish and Catalan police officers gave testimony.

A Spanish police officer who had been stationed in La Seu d’Urgell before and during the referendum spoke of protests outside the hotel they were billeted in saying he and his colleagues had been “intimidated” because they were unable to leave the hotel. Another officer describing the incident said “there were a lot of people,” adding:

“I saw a crowd getting closer to the hotel [where officers were lodged] to harass my colleagues, including a fire truck.”

One Spanish officer who had been stationed in Gerona said protesters called them “sons of bitches” and “fascists.”

An officer in the Catalan police, the Mossos, recalled participating in a raid in Sabadell on the home of Joan Ignasi Sànchez, then an advisor to the then Catalan minister, Meritxell Borràs, who is charged with misuse of public funds and disobedience.

 “We were shoved and I was hit with a motorbike helmet. They insulted us, but I didn’t receive any threat.

Later he stated he did no go on sick leave as a consequence and that there were “no organizers” of the protest that seemed “spontaneous.”

The eighth officer to testify was also part of that raid in Sabadell and stated that subsequently he had to go on sick leave after injuries he received to his elbow and finger.

The officer in charge of the Civil Guard barracks in Gandesa talked of sustained harassment of his officers including “We Will Vote” being spray painted on the barrack’s wall.

Another Civil Guard stationed in Igualada said that the protests prior to the referendum had made their children anxious.

Yet another officer said that in late September 2017 an incendiary device soaked in fuel had been thrown at his barracks and as a consequence some families of officers moved to other rooms. When a defence lawyer asked if there was any evidence this attack was carried out by an independence supporter the President of the Court stopped him from proceeding with the question.

A Civil Guard recalled that protesters put ballot boxes in front of the police station. He says he “feared” some protesters could have turned more aggressive.

Earlier a rather different account of events on the day of the referendum had been given to the court by Bernhard von Grünberg, at the time an MP for the German Social Democratic Party, who witnessed events that days saying he was “impressed” by the “calm” attitude of people as Spanish police forced their way into polling stations to stop them voting.  He spoke of their “determined discipline.”

“Despite threats,” recalled von Grünberg, “people went to vote, waited for many hours, were subject to intimidation, and didn’t resort to violence.”

Having visited “several polling stations” in Barcelona and Girona on that day he described how Spanish police officers “broke into polling stations, breaking doors, and clearing people out.”

Von Grünberg also described seeing some people “injured by rubber bullets,” and who were hospitalised, but told the court, “I didn’t perceive any violent attitude” nor did he see any Spanish police officer injured.

When asked by the prosecution whether he was representing any political organisation in Germany which supported Catalan independence he answered no and said he was not in favour of such a thing. He also added that he paid for his travel himself. With the Catalan political leaders on trial charged with the misuse of public funds, Von Grünberg said: “I paid all travel expenses myself.

Just when you might think you have entered the world of Alice Through the Looking Glass,  the Spanish Electoral Board, which is responsible for the conduct of the forthcoming Spanish General Election, last week ordered the Catalan Delegation to the UK, to remove the yellow ribbon symbol in support of the Catalan political prisoners which was on display from its office balcony on London’s Fleet Street. Clearly this was going to influence the throngs of Spanish voters passing it each day!

In another bizarre twist the Spanish Electoral Board, which is responsible for the conduct of the forthcoming Spanish General Election, said it would take legal proceedings against the Catalan public broadcasting board which runs the Catalan language TV3 and Catalunya Radio over its coverage of the recent demonstration in Madrid against the trial of the Catalan leaders and that each had to give two hours broadcast time to those parties not represented on the protest (Spanish unionist parties).

In addition it banned them from using terms such as “exile,” “political prisoners,” and “repression trial.”

That the charges against the Catalan leaders include “rebellion” and “sedition,” for which nine have been held in preventative detention, might suggest they are political prisoners unless the prosecution are saying these were apolitical acts of rebellion and sedition.

The trial at the Supreme Court was once again suspended so that two judges who are members of the Electoral Board could attend the meeting which decided this. Although they arrived late so as to miss that discussion it is more than a little strange that they can sit in judgement of Catalan leaders, some of whom are candidates in the election, and be responsible for its running.

It will also be of interest how the Board responds to a submission from the Federación Estatal de Foros por la Memoria (FEFFM) (National Federation of Forums for Memory) consisting of  various bodies concerned with increasing the public memory in Spain of the executions and killings carried out by Franco’s forces during and after the Civil War, that Franco’s tomb at the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) be closed for the duration of the electoral campaign and

A national group of bodies focused on historical memory has now asked the Central Electoral Commission to close the valley during the upcoming elections. This follows the commission ordering the removal of yellow ribbons from public buildings during the campaigns. The group, FEFFM, also calls for the removal or covering of Francoist symbols for the same period.

In their submission they ask that the Electoral Board

“Take the necessary measures, and with maximum urgency, to proceed to the immediate removal of monuments, symbols, commemorative plaques, road names, Francoist symbols on buildings and public spaces, dedicated to remembering, honouring or commemorating events or people linked to the dictatorship which kidnapped national sovereignty for more than 40 years”.

If that proves difficult they suggest they could be covered over. It seems a fair request given the Electoral Board’s enthusiasm for banning Catalan yellow ribbons and preventing the media using the term “political prisoners.”

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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