The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to Assess Whether to Investigate Spain for Preventing Jailed Catalan Leaders from Having Access to EU Courts

On Monday, the President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, said that member states have “the obligation to facilitate all citizens’ access to the courts.” It was his response to MEP Diana Riba’s (ERC) question regarding the pitfalls that the Constitutional Court puts on the jailed Catalan leaders to prevent them from having access to the ECHR.

Sicilianos affirmed that the ECHR will investigate if such a demand is received. He added that there had already been precedents in cases where the prisoner’s access to the ECHR has been hampered. “The court will need to investigate and find out if there is a violation,” he said.

Last week it was revealed that Spain’s Constitutional Court had set a strategy of accepting all the appeals from the Catalan political prisoners to prevent them from having access to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECHR). This procedure was performed on around fifty appeals for protection filed by Catalan political prisoners against provisions of the Spanish Supreme Court. This kept these matters away from the Strasbourg court during the Independence trial and until the sedition sentence.

If the Constitutional Court had failed to accept all these appeals – only 1% are usually accepted — it would have allowed the defenses to subsequently report a human rights violation before the ECHR that could have been resolved, or at least accepted, before there was a ruling on the case. The Spanish High Court prevented this.

Jailed Catalan Leader Oriol Junqueras Prepares an Appeal to the General Court of the European Union (EGC)

The defense of jailed Catalan leader Oriol Junqueras is preparing an appeal in the General Court of the European Union (EGC) against the decision of the European Parliament to exclude him as Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Precautionary measures will be required for the EGC to suspend the decision of David Sassoli, President of the Euro-Chamber, and the court will have to determine whether to accept it within a few hours after the appeal is presented.

The General Court of the European Union (EGC) is a constituent Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). It hears cases against institutions of the European Union by individuals and member states.

According to article 263 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), any citizen can file an appeal against the acts of European institutions that directly affect him/her. The procedure for this appeal may take several months, but the precautionary measures will be pronounced immediately, a few hours after the petition has been registered. The EGC could accept or reject them. If they are accepted, the European Parliament will be obliged to recognize Junqueras as an MEP again.

The parallel route to the ECJ

In parallel with the appeal to the EGC, Junqueras’ defense will file an appeal against the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision to keep him in prison. If this move fails, Junqueras’ defense will appeal to the Spanish Constitutional Court for violation of his political and constitutional rights. The next and final step would be to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The International Trial Watch (ITW) Observers Platform Presents its Own Report on the Independence Trial to the UN

The International Trial Watch (ITW) observers platform has presented its own report on the Independence Trial to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the occasion of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that will be held on Spain at the session of the Human Rights Council in January 2020.

This is a Shadow Report, which is sent by NGOs to different UN bodies for reviewing the status of human rights amongst the various UN State Members.

In thirteen pages, the report brings together the human rights violations committed by Spain and the police and judicial repression against the independence movement since 2017. The first part shows the violent response of the State against the 2017 independence referendum. The second part shows the criminalization of the right to protest of the Catalans and also condemns the accusations of rebellion and sedition against jailed Catalan leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, both in preemptive prison for over two years, for participating in peaceful demonstrations in September 2017 as leaders of the two pro-independence civil society organizations Òmnium and ANC respectively. A third part shows the allegations of violations of defense rights during the Independence Trial, demonstrating that the defendants have not had a fair trial with an impartial tribunal or even with the competence to judge them.

This document will be part of the test that Spain will send in January. It is a procedure that all UN Member States submit every four years. The situation of human rights of the state in question is reviewed, regardless of the ratification of international treaties.

The exam consists of a dialogue between the members of the Human Rights Council and the state examined, in this case Spain. The test ends with recommendations from the members of the council to the State, which must indicate whether to accept them totally or partially, or if they do not accept them.

International Trial Watch (ITW) will be able to participate in a session that will be organized in Geneva later this year. On this day, the permanent delegations of the states in Geneva and the NGOs and entities that have sent written contributions will meet.

If, at the end of all this procedure, there are some recommendations to Spain for having violated human rights against the independence movement, this can be important in political and image terms, but not judicially since this is not binding.

International Observers Find Violation of Numerous Human Rights and Legal Procedures During the Catalan Independence Trial

The organization of international observers Trial Watch – Catalan Referendum Case (ITW) has concluded in its preliminary report that the trial of the 12 independentist leaders held at the Supreme Court over the past few months is a “political cause” in which “fundamental rights such as free assembly, political participation and freedom of expression have been violated.” The group also considers that there is no basis for condemning political prisoners for rebellion and seditious crimes, and that they have been “reworked” to adapt them to the Criminal Code.

The ITW concludes that organising citizen demonstrations was not capable of “transforming the constitutional order or preventing the legitimate public authority from carrying out its functions,” since in this case a state of siege had been applied. The conclusions of the report also make a special mention of the cases of the former president of the ANC, Jordi Sànchez, the president of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart and the former president of the Parliament, Carme Forcadell: “Your behavior cannot be criminal because it was protected in the exercise of fundamental rights, such as the right of assembly or freedom of expression.”

The ITW also considers that the investigation carried out by prosecutor Javier Zaragoza in the National Court on November 5, 2015, has shown that it is a general cause: “The object was to investigate the entire Catalan political movement,” which is forbidden in the Spanish legal system.

More than 30 human rights organizations support the 20 points with which observers summarize the most important violations in the trial. Although not part of the process after the Supreme Court questioned the quality of observers, the group of experts hopes that the judges will accept the criticisms in the report. They also expect their analysis to help the defendants continue their path to European courts after the ruling, which will be known in the coming months.

Summary Penultimate Week of Independence Trial: June 4

On Tuesday, the concluding statements from the prosecuting lawyers (at the Supreme Court trial of 12 Catalan political leaders) were heard:

– Spain’s Public Prosecutor affirmed that the 2017 Catalan independence referendum was “a coup d’état.”

– Attorney Javier Zaragoza affirmed that the roadmap to independence, including a referendum and a declaration of independence in 2017, was a violent insurrection, uprising, involving coercion.

It was a serious attack on the foundations of the constitution with illegal, coercive methods, using violence when needed,” he said.

Zaragoza also said that the 9 jailed Catalan leaders were not political prisoners.

There are no political prisoners, they are not political prisoners,” he insisted. He also rejected the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s report urging the “immediate” release of the leaders, accusing the institution of ignoring Spain’s arguments.

– Spanish prosecutor Moreno: “There was violence, it was necessary for their cause, they knew the vote would provoke confrontations, and yet they still called people to vote knowing what would happen.”

– Public Prosecutor Fidel Cadena said that the jailed Catalan leaders should be charged with rebellion because “they violated the constitution and the foundations of the Spanish state.”

– Rosa María Seoane, the Solicitor General, affirmed that the “trial against the Catalan leaders is completely transparent” and denied that their right to defense was undermined during the process.

– The popular prosecutor of the far-right Vox party, accused the political prisoners of perpetrating “the most sophisticated and original coup d’état against a democracy ever seen in a modern society.”

– Javier Ortega Smith, one of the lawyers for far-right Vox, affirmed that the accused were part of a “criminal organization.”

Vox lawyers concluded by saying that they wanted tough sentences “so that no one dares to attack the constitutional order again.”

Additional Information

The trial will resume on Tuesday, June 11, at 9.30am with the closing arguments from the defense lawyers. The lawyers will only have one hour to defend each of the accused.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calls for the immediate release of the jailed Catalan leaders Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Cuixart, and Oriol Junqueras.

– “Prosecutors are trying to define a new concept of violence” says defense lawyer.

Catalan Independence Trial: Summary Most Important Testimonies May 6, 7, 8 and 9

May 6, Day 39 of Trial

Catalan police officers, the leaders of Catalan police and trade unions, politicians, and voters of the 2017 independence referendum testified on Monday.

– Guillot, leader of a Catalan police union, said that as legal police, they have always “obeyed the judges and prosecution.”

– Sergi Pla said it was “an enormous task for the Catalan police covering all polling stations.”

– Xavier Trias, former Mayor of Barcelona, told the court that he “didn’t see anyone” displaying violent behavior among the protestors in autumn 2017. “The people were peaceful.”

– Ireneu Alvarado, a voter of the 2017 referendum in Dosrius, explained how she was injured after Spanish police entered the polling station that he was in. “Many people had their shirts bloodied,” he said.

– General secretary of the Catalonia branch of Spain’s largest trade union (CCOO), Javier Pacheco, said that union members protested during the police raids in Catalan government buildings on September 20, 2017, because “they [the Spanish government and police] were undermining Catalonia’s self-government.”

 

May 7, Day 40 of Trial 

Voters of the 2017 independence referendum gave their testimonies and told the court their experiences of Spanish police aggression on the day of the vote.

– Pere Font, an elderly man from Barcelona, told the court that Spanish police officers grabbed him by the testicles and threw him to the ground. 

After protesting, a police officer told him, “We were sent here to do this.” Then the police officers punched him in the face.

– Joan Porras, an activist known as Joan Bona Nit for having visited the Catalan political prisoners every night to wish them goodnight while they were imprisoned in Lledoners prison: “The Catalan police seized the ballot boxes and suspended the referendum at my polling station the day of the referendum.” He also explained that there weren’t any incidents.

– Several voters of the 2017 referendum in the town of Dosrius explained that the police arrived at their polling station and then began throwing women to the floor while insulting the people who were gathered there.

– Numerous voters explained that although they knew that the referendum had been suspended [by Spanish courts], they still went to vote because they believe that “voting is the essence of democracy.”

 

May8, Day 41 of Trial

Several voters of the 2017 referendum gave their testimony about what they witnessed at their polling stations during the referendum as well as an official at the Barcelona port. 

– Marga Borràs, who voted in Tarragona, told the court that the Catalan police tried to close down her polling station, but they couldn’t do it as there were hundreds of people blocking the entrance.

– Josep Lluís Torres, who voted in Barcelona, affirmed that the voters were “happy” until they found out that the “Spanish police were attacking people less than a kilometer away from us.”

– Isabell Castell said there weren’t any violent incidents at her polling station apart from some “far-right” people throwing stones at one point.

– Montse Higueras, who voted in Barcelona, explained that the Catalan police told them the referendum couldn’t go ahead, but that the voters “peacefully” resisted and went ahead with the vote anyway.

– José Alberto Carbonell, an official at the Barcelona port, said the requests for two ships that accommodated Spanish police officers ahead of the vote was rejected as the port wasn’t designed to hold “hotel ships.” However, he eventually authorized their docking after he was informed they were state ships.

 

May 9, Day 42 of Trial

Voters of the 2017 referendum testified that the vote took place with normalcy and without any incident in those places where the Spanish police didn’t show up. They said that the Catalan police appeared in all polling stations, informing about the court orders they had, but in no case, they used force against the voters.

– Emesis Fuentes, a former Spanish police officer, explained how was the entrance of the Civil Guard [Spanish police] to the polling station where he was without any previous warning and destroying the main door.  

“If they had asked, we would have explained that the door was closed out and not inside, and that was not locked,” Fuentes explained, which caused laughter between the public and the first warning of the President of the Chamber Judge Marchena claiming silence.

Fuentes affirmed that there was no violence by the voters. He said that people ran and that the Civil Guard began to hit them to reach the door, while he contemplated it through the glass inside the school. His three sons were outside and two of them were injured. His wife was there too.

Independence Trial: Most Important Testimonies April 23, 24, and 25

April 23, Day 34 of Trial 

 – Vice-President Pere Aragonès exercised his right to not testify, alleging that the Court number 13 of Barcelona was investigating him.

– Jordi Jané and former government secretary Joan Vidal told the court that the Catalan government’s aim was to hold an agreed referendum with Spain.

– Jané, Meritxell Ruiz, and Jordi Baiget, who also testified during the day 34 of trial, resigned from their posts three months before the October 1st independence referendum. They affirmed that their resignations were not connected to a potential unilateral vote, though growing tensions between the Spanish and Catalan administrations justified their resignations.

– David Badal, former responsible for government payments in 2017, denied that any payments were made to any printing company.

 

April 24, Day 35 of Trial 

– Former director general of the Catalan police, Albert Batlle, told the court that he resigned after jailed Joaquim Forn was appointed interior minister because he was “not comfortable” with how political events were “unfolding” in the run-up to the October 1st independence referendum.

– Joan Ignasi Elena, the former coordinator of the National Pact for the Referendum (PNR) told the court that the organization received no public money.

“The PNR was funded by private donations and the Catalan government was just one of the thousands of entities that joined,” said Joan Ignasi Elena

– Jordi Solé, MEP for ERC party on the September 20, 2017, Spanish police raids in Catalan government buildings: “It was not a tense situation. I saw neither any attacks nor threats.”

 

April 25, Day 36 of Trial

– Four witnesses, who were members of organizations overseeing the work of Diplocat, a public-private diplomatic body promoting Catalonia abroad, defended in court the “plurality” of the entity.

– Gerardo Pisarello, the deputy mayor of Barcelona, told the court that Diplocat always was plural regarding political issues, inviting both experts for and against Catalan self-determination to its conferences.

– Daniel García, a member of UGT, Spain’s largest trade union, explained that the organization “was neutral and let everybody explain their political position.”

– The director of the Barcelona Institute for International Studies (IBEI), Jacint Jordana, denied that Diplocat acted as an arm of the Catalan government.

– Former Catalan MP David Fernàndez (CUP) described the demonstrations during the October 1st independence referendum as “absolutely peaceful.”

If self-determination is a crime, I declare myself guilty and a repeat offender. And as long as it remains a crime, I’ll continue to disobey until it becomes a democratic right” — David Fernàndez

– Catalan MP Ruben Wagensberg (ERC) also defended the peaceful protests on September 20, 2017, against Spanish police raids  in Catalan government buildings: “Catalan citizens engaged in the greatest act of civil disobedience I’ve ever seen.”

Additional Information

On April 23, the day 34 of trial, sixty Portuguese politicians and intellectuals signed a manifesto under the title “For Democracy and Freedoms in Catalonia.” The manifesto calls for the “immediate release” of the Catalan political prisoners.