The Spanish Supreme Court Is Expected to Withdraw Puigdemont’s Extradition Order

Spanish Supreme Court Judge Llarena is expected to withdraw the extradition order against exiled Catalan President Puigdemont in the next few days. On Thursday, the German court of Schleswig-Holstein decided to extradite Puigdemont for embezzlement, but not for rebellion, the charge sought by the Spanish Supreme Court.

This decision compromises Judge Llarena’s instruction against the ex-members of the Catalan government who held the referendum. 

Given that the acceptance of Puigdemont’s extradition would mean that he, “ex-leader” of the Catalan government, would be judged neither for rebellion nor for sedition, Judge Llarena has apparently decided to reject his extradition in order to be able to judge the rest of imprisoned Catalan leaders for rebellion without showing a lack of justice in Spain.

The image of President Puigdemont, “ex-leader” of the Catalan government, being judged for the minor crime of misusing public funds, with maximum penalties of up to 6 years in prison, while the rest of Catalan leaders, who played a minor role in the organization of the independence referendum, are judged for rebellion with penalties of up to 30 years in prison,would be controversial and would make evident the lack of justice and the non- existence of separation of powers in Spain.

Llarena already withdrew another extradition request for Puigdemont and three former ministers in Belgium last December. But he re-activated it after a few months, which caused outrage across European governments, which said that the judge was abusing the extradition request system.

Llarena may also take another unlikely path, taking the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). However, he appears not to be willing to take the risk of losing an appeal at a European court since it would show the lack of justice in Spain and would probably force him to release all Catalan political prisoners.

Requesting a preliminary ruling for the CJEU is a legal procedure, which enables courts of member states to question the interpretation or validity of an EU law.

If the Spanish Supreme Court requests the ruling, Puigdemont’s extradition would be frozen until it is resolved, which could take up to 16 months.

On the other hand, if Llarena doesn’t take any action, the extradition would take place in a few weeks, unless Puigdemont’s defense appeals the decision at the court of Schleswig-Holstein or at the German Constitutional Court.

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, said they were planning to appeal at the German Constitutional Court. “It might be a denial of the extradition.”

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JxCat and ERC Are Close to Reaching an Agreement on the Formation of a new Government in Catalonia

After weeks of disagreements and reproach between JxCat and ERC on the formation of a new government, both parties appear to be close to reaching a final agreement. Sources near the negotiations said that Puigdemont would lead a provisional republican government in Brussels aimed at internationalizing the Catalan cause while someone else with executive powers would do the same in Catalonia.

Nevertheless, Puigdemont would still be responsible for the appointment of the new government and he would have the power to call new elections at any given moment. Members of ERC and JxCat said that this move would allow the new government to comply with the popular mandate of the latest election: the construction of the Catalan Republic.

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Dual Government in Catalonia?

Pro-independence parties have restarted talks on the formation of an effective government in Catalonia. The negotiations broke down two weeks ago, following a wave of mutual reproaches and criticism. However, the announcement of the Spanish government that it will use its direct rule over Catalonia to eliminate Catalan as a vernacular language at schools has forced ERC and JxCat to understand each other and accelerate their negotiations.

A number of possible formulas to swear in Puigdemont as president are under discussion. The possibility of forming a dual government with some members in Brussels and others in Barcelona appears to be the most feasible one. In an interview with ACN (Catalan News Agency), Elsa Artadi (JxCat) said that her party and the ERC are preparing the necessary logistics to make it possible to govern from both places.

She also said that Puigdemont has to be sworn in even though the Spanish Constitutional Court and the Spanish government are determined to prevent it from happening. She explains that Puigdemont cannot be just a symbolic figure. For her candidacy, she has to “govern, be part of the executive power and have complete legitimacy.” Artadi added that Puigdemont should be the leader of the country, the one “setting the tone” of Catalonia’s politics.

The debate between the ERC and JxCat is developing on the assumption that part of the Catalan government will be in Brussels and the other in Barcelona. While Artadi said that Puigdemont should be able to return to Catalonia after being sworn in, the chances of that happening are remote since there aren’t sufficient guarantees that he wouldn’t be imprisoned.

Similarly, other sources from the negotiations admitted that they still have to find a formula to guarantee a normal pace of activity in the Parliament.

JxCat and ERC representatives announced yesterday that their negotiations have progressed significantly. However, they won’t announce any agreement at least until the end of next week or the following one. They said that they don’t want to prejudice the legal strategy of numerous members of JxCat and ERC, including its current leaders, who will have to appear in the Spanish Supreme Court for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public money over the next few days. They believe that the announcement of an agreement could cause their immediate imprisonment.

The major Catalan pro-independence organization, ANC, adds pressure on pro-independence parties

Last week, the ANC Executive Assembly decided to warn ERC and JxCat that if they did not reach an agreement soon on forming a government, respecting the mandate of the latest election, they will organize mass protests against them. It also encouraged the future Catalan government to disobey the Spanish government and the Spanish Constitutional Court because it is the only possible way to implement the Catalan Republic.

On February 25th, 50,000 members of the ANC will define its new road-map for the next two years. The one proposed by the direction includes the organization of permanent protests across Catalonia in order to defend the Catalan Republic. According to them, it is time for civil society to take part in the fight for independence, stressing that without mass protests and mass disobedience coming from society the Catalan Republic will never become a reality. It also added that the actions of political parties are limited due to judicial processes against their leaders and members. And finally, it encouraged other grassroots organizations to coordinate protests in order to build the Catalan Republic.

 

 

Spanish Constitutional Court Blocks Puigdemont’s Investiture as President

On Saturday, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that Carles Puigdemont can only be sworn in as president in person and with a juridical authorization prior to appearance in court. This decision, which sets a dangerous precedent, comes after the Spanish government pressured the court to rule in its favor.

According to ex-members of the Constitutional Court and prestigious jurists, the Constitutional Court violated its own rules by adopting precautionary measures against Puigdemont and four members of his cabinet since the Court only had the power to decide whether or not to consider Rajoy’s cabinet’s appeal.

Most of the current judges which form the Spanish Constitutional Court were directly appointed by the two largest Spanish political parties, PP and PSOE, which shows the high degree of politicization in the Spanish judicial system.

The Spanish government made a surprise announcement on Tuesday that it would appeal against Puigdemont’s candidacy for president in the Constitutional Court. This came after Rajoy said there was no legal basis for such a move a few days before.

Vice-President Santamaría alleged that a fugitive couldn’t be nominated as president without previously appearing in front of a judge. She added that there was also an ongoing search and arrest warrant issued against Puigdemont.

The Spanish Council of State formed by former ministers and lawyers ruled on Thursday that Puigdemont’s candidacy for president couldn’t be suspended until there is a firm judicial sentence against him since he retains his rights as an elected MP.

A Remote Investiture and Delegation of Votes

The Constitutional Court ruled against the remote investiture of Puigdemont since the presidential candidate must be physically in the Parliament during the debate. The Court also prohibited Puigdemont and the four ministers of his cabinet, who are in exile in Belgium, to delegate their votes for the investiture session.

Warning against the Catalan Parliament Bureau

The Constitutional Court also called on the members of the Catalan Parliament’s Bureau to respect its resolution, pointing out that whoever disobeys it will face criminal charges.

Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights

A few hours after learning about the resolution of the Constitutional Court, the Catalan lawyer of Puigdemont Cuevillas said that he would probably take the Constitutional Court decision to the European Court of Human Rights. He said it was a political decision which violates his client’s rights.

Numerous representatives of JxCat said, “ We will not propose [for president] a candidate other than Puigdemont. Plan A is Puigdemont; Plan B Puigdemont.”

Puigdemont’s reaction

“Even the Constitutional Court rejected the legal fraud that the Spanish government was perpetuating. More than one person should rectify the situation and end the politics once and for all. And if they are unable to do so, they should consider stepping down and giving way,” he tweeted.

The Spanish government also reacted to the news by welcoming the fact that the judges do not allow an investiture at a distance, which Madrid brands as “fraudulent.”

The CUP party calls on Catalan parliament speaker Torrent to “disobey”

The CUP party urged the Catalan Parliament president to disobey yesterday’s Constitutional Court resolution against Puigdemont’s candidacy for president. It added that they will only be present in the investiture session if Puigdemont is the candidate. Otherwise, they will attempt to block the formation of a new government which could lead to new elections.

 

 

 

 

The PP Is Willing to Undermine the Formation of a Stable Pro-Independence Government in Catalonia

Despite the poor results obtained in the latest Catalan general elections, 4% of the votes, the PP – which is also the ruling party in Spain – appears willing to unlawfully prevent, by any means, the formation of a stable pro-independence government in Catalonia.

A PP’s spokesperson, Pablo Casado said, “Catalan unionist parties must try to form a constitutionalist government in Catalonia because, though they didn’t get an absolute majority of seats in Parliament, it is still possible.”

Casado also suggested that the Spanish government will use the current judicial situation of numerous pro-independence leaders, who were elected in the latest elections but are in prison, exile, and facing criminal charges, to attempt to undermine the formation of a Catalan pro-independence government.

Up until today, this move would affect Oriol Junqueras (ERC), Jordi Sànchez (JxCat), and Joaquim Forn (JxCat), who are in prison, as well as Carles Puigdmeont (JxCat), Clara Posantí (JxCat), Jordi Puig (ERC), Meritxell Serret (ERC), and Toni Comín (ERC) who are in exile in Belgium.

Nevertheless, even if the Spanish government prevents them from taking office, pro-independence parties would still hold a simple majority of 62 seats in Parliament against the 57 unionists. Thus, the only possibility of forming an alternative unionist government would elude them unless the PP and C’s manage to negotiate with the CeC a leftist party that adamantly opposes them. But if such a unionist coalition were to happen, it would serve to install an authoritarian government that aims to criminalize any pro-independence movements across Catalonia.

A feasible alternative to prevent such a scenario would require by the 8 pro-independence deputies, who are in exile or prison, to renounce office. But this move would likely worsen their judicial situation since this would imply that they could be judged by the Spanish National Court, which is under the control of the Spanish government. Catalan deputies have immunity, and hence, can only be judged by the Spanish Supreme Court, which has proved to be far more neutral and fair than the National one. Whatever final decision pro-independence parties make, it will be soon, as the Parliament of Catalonia will be constituted on January 17th.


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Trump’s Connections With Dictators

Trump’s connections with a large number of dictatorships has raised several questions about his morality and political convictions. Since he became president, numerous human rights organizations have protested against him for welcoming human rights violators onto US soil. However, Trump has always denied those accusations, claiming that classic tyrants such as Al-Sisi (Egypt) and Erdogan (Turkey) are US allies who lead free countries.

Despite Trump’s efforts to manipulate public opinion, the recent visit of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan caused a political earthquake. During his visit to the Turkish embassy in Washington DC on Monday, Erdogan ordered his bodyguards to attack people who were peacefully protesting against him. As result, a number of protesters were injured and needed medical assistance. A few hours before that regrettable incident, Trump said:

We have had a great relationship and we will make it even better.”

Today, we face a new enemy in the fight against terrorism, and again we seek to face this threat together.”

Amnesty International said the meeting was, “an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the way that President Trump and President Erdogan are contributing to a global climate of toxic and dehumanizing politics.”

President Trump recently praised President Erdogan for winning a referendum in which dissenting opinions were ruthlessly suppressed, yet President Trump has been silent on Turkey’s alarming crackdown on the media,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

“The world will be watching, hoping that both presidents will reaffirm their commitments to protecting human rights.”

Despite Erdogan’s criminal act onto US soil, Trump said,

it was a great honor to welcome the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House today.”

Numerous Republicans and Democrats have come together to condemn Erdogan’s crime. Senator John McCain said,

We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States of America. This is the United States of America. This isn’t Turkey; this isn’t a third-world country, and this kind of thing cannot go un-responded to diplomatically.”

McCain added: “It should have repercussions, including identifying these people and bringing charges against them.After all, they violated American laws.”

Later in the day Wednesday, McCain and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sent a joint letter to Erdogan to express their “grave concern” with the behavior of his security detail.

“The actions of your staff violate the constitutional protections of freedom of the press and freedom of assembly enjoyed by all Americans. Your staff’s blatant violation of these rights on American soil is an affront to those freedoms, and reflects poorly on your government,” the letter said. “We have long supported Turkey as a member of NATO and a key US ally in the region, and we expect conduct more appropriate to our decades-long partnership.”

Also on Wednesday, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., called for the arrest and prosecution of members of Erdogan’s security detail.

If Erdogan’s bodyguards who participated in this attack have entered the country on diplomatic visas, those visas should be revoked right away,” Lofgren said, slamming Erdogan as “authoritarian” and “an oppressor” and said that it was “unwise” for Trump to meet with him.

The United States needs to send a strong message that we will not stand by,” as Erdogan brings “thuggish tactics to our nation’s capital,” Lofgren said

Despite the demands presented by Republicans and Democrats, the government said it will not take further actions against Turkey. The Department of Justice added that it will further investigate the facts and will notify Erdogan of its concerns about the incident.

Days after the incident, the Trump administration announced its intentions to strengthen its ties with Erdogan because according to them, he is an ally and represents a free country.

Two months ago, Turkey held a rigged constitutional referendum which gave Erdogan super powers. The international observers concluded that the referendum did not comply with international standards. Under the new constitution, Erdogan can approve his policies without the previous approval of the parliament.

Before the referendum, Erdogan was already abolishing human rights in Turkey. Since July 15, Erdogan’s regime has sacked 138,147 citizens, detained 102,247, arrested 50,987, shut down 2,099 schools, dormitories, and universities, fired 8271 teachers, dismissed 4,424 judges, shut down 149 media outlets, and arrested 231 journalists. Furthermore, detainees are repressed, oppressed and in numerous cases executed without any trial.

Looking at these numbers, it is clear that Erdogan is a cruel dictator who has Trump’s approval. Erdogan’s has not been the only visit of a dictator to the US.

On April 3, Trump welcomed the Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the White House (Obama always refused meeting him as long as he was a human rights violator.) During his meeting, Trump said,

we agree on so many things.” He said Egypt’s leader has “done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.”

He added: “We will fight terrorism and other things. We’re going to be friends for a long long period of time. We have a great bond with the people of Egypt.”

In a later press conference, Sean Spicer said,

Trump made clear that this is a new day in the relationship between Egypt and the United States and the president affirmed his strong support of the Egyptian people,” “It was a candid dialogue during which they discussed both areas of cooperation and of concern.”

Numerous human rights organizations protested against Al-Sisi’s visit:

Inviting al-Sisi for an official visit to Washington as tens of thousands of Egyptians rot in jail and when torture is again the order of the day is a strange way to build a stable strategic relationship,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch.

Giving more money to the Sisi government is to the detriment of US and Egyptian interests,” Margon said. “Neither side in this relationship seems interested in promoting human rights, but the gross abuses being committed by Egyptian authorities should compel Congress to keep limiting support.”

As Defense Minister, Al-Sisi overthrew the country’s first freely elected president in 2013. He also killed 1150 protesters in the following weeks. Since then, his security forces have arrested tens of thousands of Egyptians, committed abuses, tortures, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial executions. According to several human rights organizations, Al-Sisi has arrested 60.000 innocent citizens and accused them of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2014, Al-Sisi arrested an American citizen who founded the “Belady Foundation For Street Children.” Last February, Al-Sisi shut down several human rights organizations, including a center for rehabilitating people who have been tortured by the government. Al-Sisi alleged that these organizations were funded by foreign countries. As a result, numerous human rights defenders are now liable to face a 25-year sentence. This decision contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR.)

Despite all these facts, the Trump administration contends that Egypt is a free democratic country that is fighting Islamist terrorism. However, the above-mentioned violations of human rights indicate that Egypt is actually, the harshest dictatorship in the Middle East.

Since 1987, the US has provided 1.3 billion of dollars in annual military aid to Egypt in the form of equipment, training, etc. Obama suspended the program when Al-Sisi became “president” in 2013. However, two years later, he reinstated military aid although now limited to training. When Trump became president, he announced that he would resume military aid to Egypt again.

If that were not enough, Trump visited Saudi Arabia to sign a 100 million dollar arms deal on Friday. On Sunday, he gave a speech on Islam and peace. When asked if Saudi Arabia is a dictatorship, a government spokesperson said,

Saudi Arabia is a democratic country and our most important ally in the fight against ISIS in the Middle East.”

On Saturday, Trump scandalized his supporters when he bowed to the Saudi King while receiving a medal. Until then, Trump had always been one of the most prominent anti-Muslim speakers in US politics. However, it appears from the fact that Trump went there to sign a massive contract that he has changed his mind. By bowing to the Saudi King, Trump has supported one of the worst human rights violators in the world.

In the past, Saudi Arabia has curtailed the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly by detaining and imprisoning critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists on vaguely worded charges.

Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia have committed serious violations of international law, including war crimes, in Yemen. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition bombed thousands of Yemenis, including children. It also caused a permanent shortage of basic supplies, water, and electricity across the country, leading to outbreaks of diseases and starvation.

Security officials continued to torture detainees with impunity, and imposing and administering corporal punishments, particularly floggings. In February, the Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to 800 lashes and eight years imprisonment.

Women remain legally subordinate to men with respect to marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. They cannot access higher education, take paid employment or travel abroad without the approval of their male guardian. Women also remain banned from driving.

Courts have continued to impose death sentences including for non-violent crimes. Many defendants are sentenced to death after unfair trials by courts that convict them without adequately investigating allegations that their “confessions” were coerced, including with torture. On January 2 authorities reportedly carried out 47 executions, 43 by beheading and four by shooting, in 12 locations around the country.

With this record, it appears that not even Trump could deny that Saudi Arabia is a dictatorship. He is not the first president to have good relations with the Saudi Kingdom: Obama and Clinton also had strong ties with the dictatorship, but never at the current high level.

Trump’s motivations to strengthen his relationships with dictators are unclear. Moreover, he criticized this style of politics until he became president. Perhaps Trump has realized that dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia are more powerful than the US.

What is clear is that by strengthening his ties to dictators, Trumps is indirectly endorsing their violations of human rights. For that reason, there is increasing concern that Trump may try to install a new dictatorship in the US. It is important to remember that the US system was created to prevent these scenarios. But if most republicans support his mental gymnastics, he may soon turn the US system into a “Banana republic.”

So far, Trump has appointed a republican as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. This greatly strengthens his position with respect to the judiciary, increasing the likelihood of ultimate success for any laws passed by his Republican allies in Congress. However, US citizens will be crucial in stopping Trump’s plans. Bad results for Republicans in the mid-term Congress and Senate elections in 2018 would open the door for an internal rebellion, leading to Trump’s impeachment. Given what we have seen so far, the words “IMPEACHMENT” and “DICTATORSHIP” will be the most popular words of the coming year.

James Comey’s Dismissal: A Nixonian Move

On Tuesday night, Trump unexpectedly fired the director of the FBI James Comey, alleging that he had lost confidence in him after the latter mishandled the investigation of Clinton’s email. This move comes after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ordered to find reasons to recommend that Trump dismiss Comey. These facts have raised concerns among opposition and civil rights organizations. They think Comey’s firing was intentionally done to hide misconduct last year by the Trump campaign

After receiving the news, Democrats contended that the fact that Sessions advised Trump to terminate Comey was deeply troubling. Even more so since Sessions had recused himself from any investigation into Russian meddling a few weeks ago. This fact raises several questions about his real involvement with this potential collusion.

At the time Comey was fired, he was carrying out an investigation into a possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian administration in order to help him win the last election. According to several sources, Comey was getting close to finding clear evidence directly linking Trump with the Kremlin.

Comey learned of his dismissal from televisions tuned to the news while he was addressing the workforce at the FBI office in Los Angeles, law enforcement sources said. The source said he made a joke about it to lighten the mood and called his office to get confirmation. In a letter to Comey, the president wrote:

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”

Trump has insisted via Twitter that he fired Comey because no one could trust him any longer. He also added that the Democrats are behaving very hypocritically since they were all demanding Comey’s dismissal a few weeks ago.

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Trump added,

The search for the next head of “our crown jewel of law enforcement” will begin immediately.” Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, takes over in the interim.”

“He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with NBC News. “You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that.”

For their part, Democrats and civil rights organizations have demanded that Trump appoint a special prosecutor to continue the investigation into Russian meddling. They contend that if this does not happen, US citizens will have reason to think that Trump is trying to hide something from the public. Democrat Adam Schiff, a ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said:

The same president who has called the investigation into the Russian hacking of our democracy and the potential complicity of his campaign a ‘fake’ cannot pretend to have made such a decision uninfluenced by his concerns over Comey’s continued involvement in the investigation.”

It is more imperative than ever that an independent prosecutor is appointed.”

Civil rights groups also expressed alarm at the day’s events. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said:

The independence of the FBI director is meant to ensure that the president does not operate above the law. For President Trump to fire the man responsible for investigating his own campaign’s ties to the Russians imperils that fundamental principle.”

Mr. Trump’s accusations came even as officials in the FBI rose to defend the reputation of their former director by debunking Trump’s lies and saying that they endanger relations between the FBI and the White House.

Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Andrew McCabe, the Acting FBI Director, declared, “it is the greatest privilege of [his] career to have served with Mr. Comey.He added, “I can tell you that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI, and still does to this day.”

Numerous GOP officials have described Trump’s actions as “Nixonian,” pointing out that there has never been a similar situation since the Watergate case.

While Trump is trying to halt any sort of investigation against him, the Senate has called on Comey to testify behind closed doors at the Senate to further discuss his investigation. It now appears that next week will pivotal in determining whether Trump colluded with the Kremlin. Meanwhile, while awaiting for the conclusions of the investigation, there are already numerous civil organizations, including some republicans calling on the GOP to initiate impeachment proceedings.