Four Years since the Spanish Military Police Force Civil Guard Stormed Several Departments of the Government of Catalonia

Last Monday, September 20th, marked four years since the Civil Guard, a Spanish military police force, stormed several departments of the government of Catalonia and the headquarters of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) in an attempt to prevent the October 1st independence referendum. In response, over 60,000 Catalans peacefully demonstrated outside the Department of the Economy, where the main police operation was taking place, in defense of the government of Catalonia. This peaceful demonstration was used by the Spanish state as an excuse to jail civil society leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, by accusing them of sedition.

Both leaders recalled the events during an interview for “El Matí de Catalunya Ràdio,” and stated that it was a “trap” set up by the State. “We had never imagined ending up in prison due to the events that took place outside the Department of Economy that day.”

Jordi Cuixart said, “That day was a turning point in the defense of fundamental rights. Catalan society was empowered in a non-violent way.”

Jordi Sànchez: “We did what was right in the face of an absolutely irresponsible decision by a judge to allow the Spanish police to enter government offices to try to prevent the independence referendum on October 1st.”

Both of them also stated that the fact that police officers left firearms in a car of the Civil Guard with the doors open in front of the protesters is clear evidence that what happened four years ago was a “trap.”

Jordi Cuixart: “In a democratic country there would have been an investigation into why there was a police car with weapons inside and the doors open.”

Cuixart and Sànchez also affirmed that the independence movement remains active as shown in the last elections and the mass demonstration for the National Day of Catalonia where over 400,000 people took to the streets demanding independence. “The demand for self-determination remains stronger than ever and the sovereignty movement is still standing,” they added.

Jordi Sànchez, who is now leader of Junts party, also confirmed that he had filed an appeal against his 9-year prison sentence for sedition to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the “continuous violation of fundamental rights” he has suffered.

Spain Accused of Spying on Catalans

The “SOURGUM” malicious software package has been used to spy on Catalan citizens, according to Microsoft. The firm says that its intelligence center MSTIC has found out that “the Israeli private-sector actor has been hired by governments in order to spy on over 100 people around the world, including politicians, human rights activists, journalists, academics, embassy workers, and political dissidents.”

Exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and the president of the Catalan cultural organization Òmnium Jordi Cuixart are among the victims. “The Spanish state violates the right to privacy: it is obvious: they know everything about us,” says Cuixart.

The Catalan government has accused the Spanish government of spying on Catalans


President Aragonès: “Afterwards they get angry when they are put at the same level as Turkey in terms of human rights.”

Vice-President Jordi Puigneró: “Controlling Catalans, a curious ‘reconciliation’ agenda led by the Spanish executive.”

This revelation comes a year after The Guardian and El País revealed that the phones of Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent and other pro-independence activists were targeted using the Pegasus spyware that experts say is only sold to governments to track criminals and terrorists.

The Spanish Government Wants to Enforce Dangerous Reforms which Will Change the Country’s National Security Laws

The Spanish government (PSOE-UP) is planning to reform a law that would allow them to mobilize all adult citizens from Spain in case of a serious crisis. According to the newspaper El País, any adult would have to obey the rules set up by the Spanish Security Council to perform “social tasks.” If the law passes the government will be able to seize almost everything, they will be able to seize property such as houses and companies. They will also be able to seize citizens’ bank accounts and potentially spread misinformation via the media.

This reform is based on Article 30 of the Spanish Constitution, which states that “the Spaniards have the duty and the right to defend Spain.” The “social tasks” would be regulated by the obsolete article that defended compulsory military service, which was suspended in 2001, which states that “the duties of citizens may be regulated in cases of serious risk, catastrophe, or public crisis.” According to the document, the President would also be able to declare a state of emergency without the approval of Congress.

These dangerous reforms could be used by the far-right in the future to install an authoritarian government and quell any form of dissent, which could potentially bring the country back to Francoism times. This could happen soon since according to recent polls, the conservative PP and the far-right Vox will get an absolute majority in the next Spanish election in two years.

The Spanish Government Grants Pardons for 9 Jailed Catalan Leaders the Day after the Council of Europe Demanded the Liberation of Catalan Political Prisoners, the Return of Exiles, and the End of Repression

On Tuesday, the Spanish government granted partial and reversible pardons for the nine jailed Catalan leaders Jordi Cuixart, Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Jordi Sànchez, Joaquim Forn, Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, and Raül Romeva in response to international pressure. It came a day after the Council of Europe demanded the liberation of Catalan political prisoners, the withdrawal of extradition orders against exiles, and the end of repression.

The pardons are partial, meaning that the nine leaders are still barred from holding public office for nearly a decade, and reversible in the sense that they will be suspended if the leaders commit a “serious crime” in the coming years or if any of the prisoners exercise the fundamental rights that landed them in prison in the first place. In the cases of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, this was holding a peaceful demonstration.

Council of Europe

On Monday, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe approved a report by its Committee on Legal Affairs on the situation of political leaders behind bars in Spain and Turkey by 70 votes in favor, 28 against, and 12 abstentions. They demanded the release of the Catalan political prisoners, the withdrawal of the extradition orders against exiles, among others, and the end of repression. They also overturned one by one and by a large majority the amendments of Spain’s PSOE and PP representatives who wanted to reduce the report’s critical content. Spanish efforts to water down the report failed.

The document approved by the Council of Europe is also important because it can be used as a precedent in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Political prisoners have already begun bringing appeals against their prison sentences for weeks. They expect the Strasbourg verdict to result in the annulation of their sentences, which could be a major blow to Spanish justice.

Pardons not a solution to the conflict

The pardons granted for nine jailed Catalan leaders on Tuesday are not a realistic solution to the ongoing conflict. There are still exiles and over 3,300 Catalans currently enduring judicial proceedings, including officials, and thousands of activists and normal people across the country. Thus, the conflict is expected to continue until their situation is resolved and the demands of an astonishing majority of 80% of Catalans, demanding amnesty and self-determination, are heard.

Political Prisoner Jordi Cuixart Case Affects “Rights of the Whole of European Society”

On Tuesday, the Catalan cultural organization Òmnium Cultural held an event to explain the recent decision of its jailed President, Jordi Cuixart, to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). He is currently serving nine years in prison after being found guilty of sedition for participating in a peaceful demonstration a few days before the 2017 independence referendum.

“The Spanish state has misused its power to harm a political adversary. There has been a use of the powers of the State to judicially prosecute political dissent. The right to demonstrate should not be limited by political opression. The objective was not to apply the law, but to find a pretext to keep Cuixart away from the protests and weaken Òmnium Cultural,” said the lawyer Olivier Peter.

Olivier predicts a “defeat for the State, invoking international pressure.” He also referred to the votes of Juan Antonio Xiol and María Luisa Balaguer, judges on Spain’s Constitutional Court, who stated that the prison sentence by the Supreme Court violated Cuixart’s right to assembly and personal and ideological freedom. He also believes that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will resolve his client’s case “rapidly.”

“Cuixart’s case will have effects on the fundamental rights of the whole of European society. He was convicted of sedition for exercising the right to demonstrate and for exercising freedom of expression after a trial full of irregularities, and therefore, we are facing an unprecedented case. He was imprisoned and convicted for exercising fundamental rights,” said the lawyer.

“There will be either a condemnation of Spain or a condemnation of democracy,” said the Vice-president of Òmnium, Marcel Mauri. “The case of Cuixart is the case of democracy, and it is essential to continue working for self-determination,” he added.

The event was attended by Ed Donovan, advisor to the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders; Masha Chichchenkova, Coordinator of Protection to Europe of Front Line Defenders; Giada Negri from the European Civic Forum; the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jody Williams, from the United States; the president of PEN International, Jennifer Clement, from Mexico, and Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the World Organization Against Torture, from Geneva.

The Council of Europe Denounces the “Retaliation and Intimidation” by Spain against Jordi Cuixart, a Catalan pro-Independence Human Rights Defender

The Council of Europe denounces the continued suffering of the Catalan political prisoner and President of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart. This was stated in a report written by the General Rapporteur of Human Rights Defenders of the Council of Europe, Alexandra Louis, after Jordi Cuixart’s situation was analyzed by the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Body, where his treatment was equated with that of other human rights defenders imprisoned in countries of dubious democratic quality such as Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The report states that “the trial against Cuixart was political in nature, and he should not have been tried by the Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction to try elected officials and not activists of civil society like him.” The rapporteur also pointed out that Cuixart is the president of “an association that promotes civil and cultural rights in Catalonia that was founded in 1961 under the Franco dictatorship.”

Louis also affirms that she will “continue to pay close attention to the work of the institutions of the Council of Europe.”

“I will also oversee the work of other international organizations on this issue and alert the committee and the Assembly to new cases of violations of the rights of human rights defenders and all new initiatives aimed at protecting them,” she stated.

Reprisals and intimidation

The rapporteur says that examples such as Cuixart’s show that “human rights defenders are still suffering reprisals and intimidation, and that their situation has not improved, but has even worsened in certain European member states,” comparing it with the situation in Turkey.

Arbitrary Judiciary

In 2018, the GRECO group (Group of State against Corruption of the Council of Europe) stated that Spain has a problem of judicial independence, and the human rights advisers of this body have also questioned the proportionality of the Judgment in Democracy.

International call for Cuixart’s release

Prestigious institutions and entities have called for the release of Jordi Cuixart. The list includes: Amnesty International, the World Organization Against Torture, Front Line Defenders, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Association of European Democratic Lawyers, the International Commission of Jurists, and the International PEN, among others. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also questioned the allegations against Cuixart and his imprisonment, while calling for his release and for the Spanish government to open an investigation into his imprisonment. Still within the framework of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and three Special Rapporteurs, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on Minorities.

In addition, there have been many political, social, and cultural figures from around the world who have expressed support for Jordi Cuixart and called for his release. The manifesto made public at the beginning of the year stands out around fifty internationally known figures ask for amnesty for all those against whom the Spanish state retaliated. It was signed by Dilma Rousseff, Gerry Adams, Yoko Ono, Ai Wei Wei and five Nobel laureates: Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Jody Williams, Mairead Corrigan, and Elfriede Jelinek.

Catalan Pro-Independence Parties Register an Amnesty Bill in the Spanish Congress

On Tuesday, the Catalan pro-independence parties ERC, Junts, CUP and PDECat registered a draft bill for an amnesty law in the Spanish Congress. This seeks the extinction of any kind of criminal and administrative responsibility for all acts of political intent related to the democratic struggle for self-determination of Catalonia since January 1, 2013, which would grant a pardon to over 3,000 victims of reprisals.

The proposal, which has to be debated in Congress, has no chance of passing. PP and Vox have already announced their refusal and the senior cabinet minister and PSOE organizational secretary José Luis Ábalos also confirmed that his party will oppose the amnesty law, thus closing the doors to a possible approval.

The position of Unidas Podemos, which is in a coalition government with PSOE, is still unknown. The group’s president in Congress, Jaume Asens, said that they will not vote against it. However, he has not clarified yet whether they will abstain or vote in favor, and has stated that it will depend on the wording of the text.

The Spanish government was considering other alternatives, which have been rejected or deliberated postponed, such as granting presidential pardons to the nine politicians and high-profile activists political prisoners or a reform of the crime of sedition for which they were convicted. However, these proposals would only benefit the top leaders of the pro-independence movement, leaving over 3,000 lower-profile cases unresolved.

The Vice-President of the Catalan civil society organization Òmnium Cultural, Marcel Mauri, said that the approval of the amnesty law by the Congress will “depend on the political will to resolve the Catalan conflict. It would be an “important step” that should make it possible to “turn the page,” he added.

Montse Bassa (ERC) warned that rejecting this amnesty law is “maintaining injustice and revenge” and “wanting to negotiate [while holding] hostages”.

Míriam Nogueras (Junts) stated that the Spanish government has not yet put any alternative on the table.

Mireia Vehí (CUP) recalled that, with the presentation of this bill, PSOE has the ball in its court.

The Catalan National Assembly (ANC) did not attend the event because approval of the amnesty law in Congress is not possible.

Spanish Government Dialogue and Reconciliation? Immunity of Catalan MEPs Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí Stripped and Seven of the Nine Political Prisoners Sent Back to Prison

On Tuesday, the European Parliament approved the removal of the immunity of Catalan MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí after a plenary session vote. The Spanish political parties PSOE, PP and Vox had requested this. The secret ballot was held on Monday, but the results were released on Tuesday morning.

The vote was not unanimous and some 80 MEPs from the Socialists, PP and Liberal groups broke the voting discipline imposed by PSOE and PP. That means that 42% of the MEPs didn’t vote in favour of the immunity waiver, which is an unprecedentedly high figure in such cases.

– In the case of Puigdemont, 400 MEPs voted in favour of removing his immunity, 248 against and 45 representatives abstained.
– In the case of Toni Comí, 404 MEPs voted in favor of removing his immunity, 247 against and 42 representatives abstained.
– In the case of Clara Ponsatí, 404 MEPs voted in favor of removing her immunity, 247 against and 42 representatives abstained.

Spain seeks the extradition of the Catalan leaders for their role in the 2017 independence referendum – this is the third time the Supreme Court has attempted to have them handed over. Belgium, Germany, and Scotland rejected extradition requests before and Spain withdrew the EU arrest warrant on another occasion before it was denied.

Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí will keep their status as MEPs. They would lose their status only after extradition and conviction in a Spanish court. The extradition would have to be approved by a local court.

Belgian justice already denied the extradition request for exiled Catalan leader Lluís Puig, who didn’t have immunity, on the grounds that the Spanish Supreme Court was not competent to request his extradition.

Removal of the Open Prison Privileges for the Seven Male Political Prisoners

On Tuesday, a few hours after the European Parliament decided to remove the immunity of the exiled Catalan leaders and MEPs, a penitentiary court decided to remove the day-leave permits of the seven male pro-independence political prisoners, who will now have to stay in prison full-time.

They had been enjoying the “low security” prison category status since late January, allowing them to leave jail during the day, sleep in their cells at night, and go home on weekends, after over three years behind bars.

The other two female political prisoners persecuted for their role in the 2017 referendum, Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa, are still pending a final decision of another Catalan penitentiary court.

Punishment

The pro-independence movement has interpreted these moves as a punishment for getting historic results in the last Catalan elections, surpassing 50% of the popular vote for the first time, with 52%.

A Few Reasons Why Young Protesters Have Been Demonstrating in Catalonia Over the Last Week

Freedom of Expression

The arbitrary imprisonment of rapper Pablo Hasel for his song lyrics and tweets criticizing the monarchy and the police has motivated many youngsters to take to the streets. Where the international community and society see freedom of expression, the Spanish justice system sees “glorification of terrorism and slander.”

No Future Prospectsfor Young People

With 40% youth unemployment, the highest rate in the EU, young people see no future prospects. They don’t have access to the job market, and when they do the jobs are precarious, not letting them leave home and build a vital, independent life. This situation has been ongoing for a long time and the general sentiment is that the system has left them behind.

Cumulative Anger from Past Injustices

In the last few years, thousands of Catalans: rappers, activists, political leaders, etc., have been prosecuted, repressed, forced into exile or jailed, while reactionary forces and fascists have been able to spread hatred across society with absolute impunity.

Mistrust in Politics

The general perception of society is that their problems have never been solved through politics and that the current system is punishing them.

Police Brutality During the Protests

The way that the police dealt with the first few days of unrest was another motivation for protest. For example, one 19-year-old woman lost her eye to a police-fired foam bullet, and a group of peaceful protesters was kettled and were hit with batons. 

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Once Again Condemns Spain for Not Investigating Tortures

On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) once again condemned the Spanish state for failing to investigate allegations of torture and thus violating Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The sentence confirms that Iñigo González Etayo, arrested in 2011, was subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatment” and must be compensated with 20,000 euros.

Iñigo was arrested, along with Gorka Zabala, Jon Patxi Arratibel and Gorka Mayo, by order of the incumbent Minister of the Interior Fernando Grande-Marlaska, then a judge of the Spanish National Court. They were all accused of belonging to a terrorist organization for being members of the Basque pro-independence organization Ekin.

Iñigo claimed that during the interrogation they put a bag over his head, waterboarded him, hit him and made him want to vomit because he couldn’t stand it anymore. The confession was obtained by torture. Its contents were specified by the police. All the detainees reported being tortured by the Civil Guard.

Strasbourg already condemned Spain for failing to investigate allegations of tortures against Patxi Arratibel and Xabier Beortegi, both detained in the same police operation. It is noteworthy that Arratibel signed a police statement with the word “Aztnugal,” which read backwards means “help” in Basque.