Núria Bassa, Toni Strubell – One year of “pardon” for Catalan ministers

As Spain’s Supreme Court considers reimprisonment, Council of Europe call is ignored

Toni Strubell  is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want

Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer

Article publicat en catalan aqui

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Catalonia-Trial-1024x569.jpg

One year has passed since the Spanish government officially pardoned the
Catalan politicians responsible for calling the Independence Referendum in
2017. In 2019, nine of them had been sentenced to up to 13 years of prison
on charges of sedition. Perhaps it is worthwhile analysing what led PM
Sánchez to grant those pardons and see what the consequences have been
for the resolution or dissolution? of the Catalan conflict to this day.

At no time should it be overlooked that Sánchez’s decision coincided with
the passing of a severe Council of Europe report regarding Spain’s
treatment of the Catalan conflict. Though never publicly admitted, this
report must have acted as a considerable prompt (and embarrassment) for
Madrid in the sense that it openly compared the abuse of the rights of
political opponents in Spain with those occurring in Turkey. It spoke of the
treatment given to the Catalan independentist politicians who had received
hefty prison sentences for “sedition” and other seemingly arbitrary
accusations. The report, written by Latvian socialist Boris Cilevics, called for
the immediate release of these prisoners. And surely enough, they were set
free three days later, no coincidences there. Many saw this step as
Sánchez’s only way out to respond to CE pressure at the same time as a
method of muffling the wave of indignation the pardons would cause in a
country where the media and politics had long been demonizing the Catalan
“criminals”. Sánchez sold his “pardons” –though partial and repealable- as
an end to the conflict and a gesture of magnanimity forced upon him by theEuropean Council.

But it would be false to believe that the list of measures demanded of
Sánchez in the CE report had been even partially respected (as Cilevics has
announced would soon be reported before the Legal Affairs and Human
Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe).
One of the major demands the first report had made was that all forms of
repression exercised against the independence movement be interrupted.
Today it is plain to see that no steps have been taken to interrupt Spain’s
judicial machinery as it continues to prosecute activists for participating in
demonstrations in favour of Catalan independence and against repression.
So far some 3500 have been investigated, questioned or tried (more than
60 with Pegasus.
). The CE report originally centred on the lot of jailed politicians, both in Spain and Turkey. In the caseof Spain, it called for the suppression of “sedition” as a penally punishable
offence. It called for an end to the suspension of politicians for merely
having shown solidarity with those repression hade been applied against, a
clear reference to the suspension of president Quim Torra. It also called for
an open and constructive period of dialogue with all the political forces in
Catalonia. None of these demands have been met.

It is in this last chapter that Spain’s contempt for the report is most evident.
No serious attempt has been made by Madrid to create the conditions for
serious talks. Past meetings can be defined as anything but serious
negotiation exercises to solve the Catalan conflict. Many observers see it
more as part of a strategy to lull the independence movement back to sleep
with the connivance of some formerly independentist sectors, including

ERC. Indeed, one of this party’s more outspoken leaders went so far as to
call President Puigdemont a “nutter” for having declared independence in
October 2022. One further criticism made by the report was that the
Spanish authoriities should not demand that Catalan political prisoners
publicly renounce their beliefs to gain an official pardon. Indeed, these
shortcoming became most evident when the terms for their pardon were
laid down by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, in political and media
contexts, the Spanish authorities have not been seen to make any attempt
to put an end to the ongoing hate speech deployed against Catalan political
aspirations which are never debated in any form of equality on the official
Spanish media. This phenomenon, one which any democratic society would
surely seek to check, was especially present in the recent Andalusian
elections where slanging the Catalans seemed to be one of the major vote-

In none of these demands made by the Council of Europe have the Spanish
authorities made any concessions other than the physical release of the 9
government members. Without doubt, Spain would have come under much
pressure to keep them in jail. This factor alone should be seen as defiant by
the Council of Europe. But what must surely cause most alarm is the fact
that steps are being taken by Spain’s Supreme Court to actually revise the
concession of these pardons. In the last year, Spain has not only made no
attempt to create the conditions to enable negotiations for a reasonable
solution to the Catalan conflict, as the CE called for, but now the threat to
readopt the repressive methods used against the Catalan Procés are coming
centre-stage once again. Could this indicate nerves over the fact that the
conflict, though latent, just refuses to fully evaporate away? Could it be that
the unilateralist developments in Scotland are making Madrid uneasy?

Sadly enough, despite the fact that a minor European institution is pricking
Spain with a toothpick, the fact that the all-powerful EU and its judicial
institutions are patting one of its dearest pet member states on the back, is
what matters. Turkey and Spain need have no fear that their democratic
deficiencies will penalize them in Europe in the near future. So far, only non-
EU Andorra has dared to have a go at prosecuting Spain’s leading politicians
(PM Rajoy and ministers Montoro and Fernández Diaz) for their mafioso
behaviour during the Catalan conflict. But that, of course, was for having
destroyed an Andorran bank (Banda Privada d’Andorra) and not for trivial
issues assoiated with morality or democratic stand

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