The Imprisonment of Two Catalonian pro-Independence Civil Rights Leaders and its Effects

On Monday of last week, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, the leaders of the two major Catalonian pro-independence civil organizations, were arbitrarily imprisoned by the Spanish National Court for sedition (punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment). The judge accused them of organizing violent demonstrations against the Spanish police on September 20th when numerous Catalonia’s high-ranking officials were detained after the police raided numerous Catalan government offices. Nonetheless, numerous videos contradict those claims, showing Cuixart and Sànchez calling on the peaceful protesters to dissolve the demonstrations of that day, while organizing a security cordon in order to allow the Spanish police to finish their tasks and leave the place in a safe manner.

Cuixart and Sànchez first learned of their arbitrary detention through the media a week before their testimony at the Spanish National Court. Numerous journalists reported Spanish high-ranking officials, prosecutors, and judges talking to each other about their imminent imprisonment during a unionist march in Barcelona downtown.

This manner of imposing “justice” on Catalonia’s civil rights leaders – similar to the one used by Erdogan in Turkey – demonstrates that the Spanish judicial system is politicized and controlled by the Spanish government, which uses it as a weapon to incarcerate its opponents in order to defend its own political interests.

Even though and in parallel, the Spanish government is fabricating an unrealistic story in an attempt to convince the international community that the Spanish judicial system is neutral – even though most members of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court are elected by the two major political parties in parliament – and that Spain has never used force against the Catalonians – despite the fact that Spanish police injured some 1,000 during the October 1st referendum.

By doing so, the Spanish government appears to be attempting to hide the real reason behind Cuixart and Sànchez’s imprisonments which is, of course, their astonishing capacity to mobilize more than 100,000 people through social media accounts, wherever they want, within two or three hours.

If the Spanish government ever thought that by detaining civil rights leaders such as Cuixart and Sànchez, Catalonia’s pro-independence movement would be brought to its knees, it deeply lacks knowledge about Catalan society, when it comes to the active defense of civil rights and the self-government achieved by the prior generation through diverse fights against Franco’s dictatorship.

On the contrary, Cuixart and Sànchez’s detentions have broadened pro-independence social support, which has grown to numbers never seen before. In the aftermath of their imprisonment, some 200,000 people took to the streets to protest against this decision, and some other thousands across Spain joined pro-Catalonian organizations Omnium Cultural and Assemblea Nacional Catalana, which may soon be declared illegal according to government sources.

In a few hours, the Spanish government will invoke Article 155 to suspend the Catalonian government, dismiss the Catalan President and ministers, who were democratically elected by the people, in an attempt to install high-ranking officials from Madrid who will take control of the Catalan government, public media agencies, and the police in order to restore “the Spanish constitutional order” and call for a snap general election without international standards and with most pro-independence forces suspended.

Far from being afraid of being in prison for up to 15 years for sedition, Sànchez and Cuixart have delivered the following message through their lawyers from prison to all Catalonians:

We feel good and strong!We are ready and prepare to be in prison for a long time! The fact that since our imprisonment, things have developed very much in favor of the independence of Catalonia make us feel stronger! Please, don’t step back: go all out and proclaim the independence, and defend it, until the very end, but always peacefully! Remember, we are well and strong!(A few weeks before of their imprisonment, they both said that there were not enough prisons to jail all Catalans, and they are certainly right.)

On the eve of the Spanish full intervention of Catalonia’s government, Catalan society appears to be more unified than ever; the government, political prisoners, federalists, teachers, firefighters, journalists from public media agencies, doctors, policemen / women, civil servants, etc. appear to be willing to disobey any type of Spanish intervention order in an attempt to halt it. They are willing to take this action -aware that they could be imprisoned by Madrid authorities- in defense of the new Catalonian Republic, civil-rights, and the self-government achieved by the prior generation.

If Article 155 is finally implemented by the Spanish government in a few hours, Catalonia’s government, ministers, and thousands of people are expected to be arrested, mistreated, tortured, discriminated against, etc. for the upcoming months. Nonetheless, if Catalonians are able to keep unified as one, disobey any type of Spanish intervention order, and hold continuous mass protests in the streets in defense of their civil-rights and self-determination, sooner or later the international community will be forced to intervene in order to prevent harm (to Catalonia and its people).

As aforementioned, Spain can jail thousands of Catalonians, from journalists, to civil-rights organizers, to students, but it will…” but it will never be able to jail all Catalonians!So the high level of unity, the loss of fear, and the perseverance of the people will determine the success of Catalonia’s process of independence.

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Catalonia’s Decisive Week for Independence

On Tuesday, Catalan President Puigdemont “declared Catalonia’s independence,” but soon after suspended its effects in favor of dialogue with Spanish authorities. His decision came after numerous international actors suggested that mediation would only be possible if he halted independence as a sign of good faith.

Nevertheless, numerous members of parliament, who were informed about Puigdemont’s decision only 45 minutes before his intervention, expressed their disagreement and threatened to boycott his speech, as well as threatening to break the pro-independence absolute majority in Parliament. They stressed that they had agreed on a different declaration earlier in the day.

To address this alarming situation, President of Parliament Forcadell decided to suspend the plenary for 1 hour. While the disagreements remained, everyone present in the meeting finally accepted Puigdemont’s changes to the speech in order to maintain unity. Additionally, they agreed to hold a ceremony to sign an unofficial declaration of independence in another building after the plenary in order to give more solemnity to the day.

Tens of thousands of people who gathered around the parliament to celebrate the proclamation of the new Catalonian Republic ended up with mixed feelings. At first, when Puigdemont declared independence, they felt very excited, but this turned to disappointment when he suspended its legal effects without setting a deadline a few seconds later.

Most experts saw Puigdemont’s move as a wise one because it served to show the international community that Catalonia is seeking dialogue until the very end, which favours future international recognition of Catalonia as an independent country.

On Wednesday, Spanish PM Rajoy refused Puigdemont’s latest offer of dialogue and activated Article 155, which can be fully implemented a few days after Puigdemont responds to a mandatory request for information as to whether he has declared independence. He was given until Monday to respond; if it is in the affirmative, this period is extended until Thursday, with the option of altering the decision.

With Article 155, Rajoy can suspend Catalonia’s government, intervene in the education system and the police, and even call for an early election while installing technocrats from the central government to rule Catalonia for at least 3 months. In parallel, pro-independence parties and organizations may also be barred from participating in any eventual general election for at least 4 years.

Major pro-independence organizations are preparing a proportionate response to the implementation of the Article 155 and the possible arrest of Catalonia’s President and vice-president, which includes mass protests, and an indefinite general strike. The main idea would be to collapse the Spanish and European economies and eventually force an international intervention/mediation in Catalonia.

The response may be precipitated by Spain this Monday, because the leaders of the two major pro-independence organizations, Cuixart and Sanchez, have been summoned by the Spanish National Court to testify about “sedition charges” (punishable by up to 15 years in prison + a fine). According to some journalists with contacts in the Spanish government, the judges who are hearing these two cases have already made the decision to jail them in order to smash their respective organizations and thus spread fear across Catalonian society.

Against this possible outcome, Cuixart and Sanchez named their replacements on Saturday. In the meantime, pro-independence organizations and parties such as the ANC, Omnium, ERC, CUP, Democrates and several MP’s from the PDECAT have called on Puigdemont to lift the suspension of Catalonia’s declaration of independence and implement its legal effects as soon as next week. If possible before the Spanish implementation of Article 155.They believe there are no longer grounds for mediation or negotiations as equals with Spain, and that the only way to bring about international mediation/negotiations is by formally declaring independence first.

With this in mind, Puigdemont will have to make the most important decision of his life tomorrow morning. He must decide whether to go all-out to respect the will of the Catalonian people and face a prison sentence of up to 15 years or to surrender, refuse to declare independence, and thus comply with the Spanish government’s will.

Whatever Puigdemont’s decision may be in the coming hours, the worsening of the conflict between Catalonia and Spain appears to be inevitable, given that if he surrenders the independence process, millions of Catalans will then feel betrayed, resulting in the radicalization of many who would rise up against the Spanish government in order to defend the newly promised Catalonian Republic.

Perhaps the only thing that can stop this upcoming clash would be Spain’s acceptance of international mediation. Although, I must admit that I do not have much hope of that happening.