After eighteen failed attempts to reach an agreement with the Spanish government on a negotiated self-determination referendum, Catalonia voted on its political future on October 1, 2017. Despite de precedents of Quebec or Scotland and that in Catalonia there is an 80% of the population that calls for a referendum, it received the frontal opposition of the government of Mariano Rajoy and the prohibition of the Spanish Constitutional Court. The Spanish police corps, which had been relocated to Catalonia weeks earlier, acted throughout the entire day with a level of violence that resulted in 1,066 people injured, shocked the world, and that organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch did not hesitate to qualify as excessive.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations and the Council of Europe have both asked for an impartial and effective investigation of this act.
During the days leading up to the referendum there were several inspections, arrests, and seizures of campaign and voting material, as well as continuous attacks on press freedom that involved police inspections without warrants and the shutting down of websites without warning.
Òmnium Cultural, which carried out a campaign in support for the referendum called “Crida per la Democracia”, also suffered the closure of the website and the seizure of the magazine of the entity. Despite this hostile climate, which continued until October 1st, with cyberattacks and the confiscation of dozens of ballot boxes and thousands of paper ballots, at the end of the day 2.2 million votes were counted – 43% of the census – with a result that was clearly favourable to independence (90%). The ensuing formal declaration of independence on behalf of the Parliament of Catalonia was followed by a hard wave of repression on the part of the Spanish Government, which partially suspended Catalan autonomy, ousted the Catalan government and hundreds of public officials, and called for new elections. The headquarters of Òmnium Cultural was registered twice by the Spanish Civil Guard.
The contradiction of a nonviolent rebellion
In the judicial sphere, with thousands of individuals and public officials on trial for having given support to the referendum, the first to be imprisoned by order of the Audiencia Nacional were the leaders of the two great Catalan civil society organizations, Jordi Cuixart (president of cultural entity Òmnium Cultural) and Jordi Sánchez (president of the National Assembly of Catalonia), on October 16, 2017. This prison decree was thereafter maintained by the Spanish Supreme Court. The initial accusation was for having “promoted” the demonstration in front of the headquarters of the Ministry of Economy of Catalonia during the registry of the building that the Civil Guard carried out on september 20, 2017, neglecting the right to protest and their role as pacifiers during the whole day.
Sanchez and Cuixart were followed by seven more people, which include the former vice-president of the Catalan government, Oriol Junqueras, and the president of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, as well as other members of the Catalan government. Despite the lack of violence, without which there can be no rebellion, they are all accused of this crime.
Furthermore, three other members of the Catalan Government (Carles Mundó, Meritxell Borràs, and Santi Vila) are accused of disobedience and misuse of public funds, and another parlamentarian (Mireia Boya) and five speakers of the Catalan Parliament (Lluís Maria Corominas, Lluís Guinó, Anna Isabel Simó, Romano Barrufet, and Joan Josep Nuet) are accused of disobedience.
The politicization of the trial, which could begin at the beginning of 2019, seems inevitable.The Audiencia Nacional, which is the one that decreed the pre-emptive detention, is a direct heir of the Extraordinary Courts of Francoism, and has been widely questioned by human rights organizations. Besides the Spanish Public Prosecutor and State Attorney, the accusation of rebellion is also being carried out by the far-right party VOX, which has links to the French Front National, the AfD of Germany, and the supremacism of Bannon in the United States.
In order to avoid prison, president Carles Puigdemont exiled himself to Belgium with three ex-ministers, while a fourth decided to go to Scotland. In Switzerland there are two former members of Parliament who have gone on exile under the threat of ending up behind bars. In total, therefore, there are nine people in prison and seven in exile in relation to the October 1 referendum. Of late they have been joined by the activist Adrià Carrasco and the Majorcan singer Valtonyc, who has been sentenced to prison for the lyrics of his songs. Òmnium Cultural has maintained its role as mobilizing agent, jointly organizing peaceful actions and mobilizations in favour of the political prisoners and exiles.
The extradition attempts fail
Up until now, the Spanish demands of extradition have failed and have highlighted the disparate criteria when it comes to evaluating the supposed crimes. The Belgian courts released the Catalan ministers without bail and refused to turn them in to the Spanish authorities claiming formal errors and irregularities in the extradition order. All of the European courts (in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Belgium) decided to free the exiled politicians. Facing this scenario, in which only extradition for misuse of public funds was viable, judge Llarena decided to withdraw the European arrest warrants, a decision that exposed the Spanish judicial system.
All of these developments are framed within a scenario of clear regression of the most basic civil and collective right in the Spanish state, something that is particularly grave in Catalonia and that Òmnium denounces with its campaign “Mañana puedes ser tú”, an initiative that is being promoted along with Catalan Human Rights organizations, and which aims to denounce the effects of the Citizen Security Law, better know as the Gag Law, which has led to the repression of over 20,000 individuals since it was approved in 2015. Nowadays actors, singers and puppeteers are being persecuted, mayors are being dismissed, webpages are being closed without prior warning, and publications are seized, all of which are actions that are unworthy of a consolidated European democracy. Throughout the world voices have cried out against these actions and attitudes, going from Amnesty International to several Nobel Peace Prize winners, all of whom lament that the Spanish state opts for repression and the violation of human and civil rights to confront a political problem, instead of dialogue and negotiation.