Every Christmas all our thoughts are with the political prisoners throughout the world.
Toni Strubell is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want
Carme and Dolors are the Catalan equivalents of Spanish girls’ names “Carmen” and “Dolores”, which are probably better known to many readers. They are also the first names of two women that have been political prisoners of the Spanish State for the past two years and who shall be spending their Christmas in prison: Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa. They form part of the Catalan Nine that were sentenced to outrageously long sentences last October 14th for their part in organizing the Catalan October 2017 Referendum. I’m going to write about them, not because they are women, but because their cause may seem especially heartbreaking to many. And also because they are good friends of mine. So I cannot promise too much journalistic impartiality this time round.
Carme and Dolors are jailed in prisons 200 kilometres apart, unlike the seven male prisoners of the famous Catalan trial that are gathered together at Lledoners prison in central Catalonia. Carme and Dolors could have shared a prison -even a cell- for company’s sake, but having elderly mothers in home towns at the opposite ends of the country made them opt for prisons that were more family-friendly. This means that they are largely isolated from other political prisoners, though occasional indy detainees arrested at local demostrations do sift through their prisons.
Carme Forcadell’s case has caught the eye of parliamentary speakers and Human Rights organizations the world over. John Bercow said that her sentence was very unjust and added that he would be delighted to invite her again to Westminster at the first opportunity. Her only apparent “crime”, for which she was sentenced to eleven and a half years prison, was to allow a parliamentary debate, an action seen as “seditious” by the State prosecutors. But it was her role as president of the 50,000-strong Catalan National Assembly, in the years prior to becoming speaker, that clinched it. Her popular leadership of the independentist organization, calling some of the largest demonstations held in Europe in the 2012-2014 period, placed her in the sights of Spain’s Deep State. They were out to get her from the start. And they got her.
Dolors Bassa’s story is a little different. Her sentence to twelve years is equally scandalous. But the charges against her are so vague and unspecific that they even go as far as to accuse her of opening schools as ballot stations for the Referendum. The only problem being that she actually had no responsibility whatsoever in opening those schools because she wasn’t minister of Education, but of Social Affairs! In the view of several leading jurists, this alone should have provided a splendid argument for a null sentence. A first appeal, though, has been turned down. We will just have to wait until the case reaches the European Union’s Court of Justice one of these years.
Dolors Bassa’s jail is an ugly flat building on a hilltop overlooking Figueres, Salvador Dalí’s home town. When it rages, the famous Tramuntana wind hits the main building broadside as it swoops down from the nearby Pyrenees. Yet every Friday evening, even when the weather is harsh, throngs of picniquers flock here to brave the wind and eat their hamper-born dinners on camping tables in the prison carparks in solidarity with Dolors. It makes an astonishing sight that I can’t remember the International press having taken a great deal of interest in. Maybe it is more normal than one might think for an EU politician to be sentenced to twelve years prison for organizing a democratic Referendum…
Dolors Bassa was interviewed recently on RAC1 (Catalan radio) and expressed her disatisfaction with the current Catalan government’s passive dealing of the post-sentence panorama. She is also very clear about the limited political iniciative political prisoners such as herself should have, preferring to leave political leadership very much in the hands of those not exposed to what she calls the “kidnap effect” of being a prisoner. She is also very appreciative of the support the political prisoners are getting from the people of Catalonia, 80% of whom are decidedly against the sentences. As she says: “People are always there for you and respond wonderfully to the calls of the Tsunami Democràtic movement. This is what keeps us going and keeps our morale high as political prisoners”.
Let’s hope that the imminent incorporation of three (maybe even four) new Catalan indy MEPs into the European Parliament will shake the European authorities into taking a closer a look at the situation in Catalonia. They should press for political solutions, not repression and jail for politicians. Maybe they can start by considering the huge injustice involved in holding honest democratic women, such as Carme and Dolors, in prison in the XXIst Century.