At last, a top Human Rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson QC, has said what needs to be said this week [his words are below]. There’s not much more that one can add, apart from this:
Spain, I believe, is ‘in denial’. Complete denial. I’ve written here before about my own views on Catalan independence, and I repeat: I don’t think I initially did support it, and I’m still not 100% sure that I do now. But you don’t need to be a Catalan or in favour of independence in order to defend the right to vote. You really just need to be democratic. Nor do you need to be a Catalan or in favour of independence to know that the brutality inflicted by the Spanish Police and Civil Guard on innocent people trying to vote on Sunday 1st October was wrong. Actually, it was evil. ‘Spain’, however, denied it happened. By ‘Spain’, I mean from the very top of Spain’s government, from the inept Rajoy, his increasingly bizarre vice-president, and even his blatantly lying foreign minister, who went on CNN and the BBC to state that the brutality images were ‘fake’. Even during the king of Spain’s diabolical speech on 3rd October, he not only failed to apologise for any violent injuries inflicted by his country’s police forces on its own citizens, but he failed to mention that any police violence took place at all. Even whilst the front pages of the world’s media on 2nd October clearly showed the true images from Catalonia, much of the pro-PP media in Spain failed to publish the truth (and still don’t). Almost a cover-up … but certainly denial. Total denial. And worse: Rajoy’s lot deny any police brutality took place, but they admit it cost €87m plus. Utter madness.
The denial about the true events that took place on 1st October continues with the denial that the Catalan independence movement is alive and kicking – more so than ever before. It is ‘kaput’, said Soraya. No, no, it is not kaput, Soraya – far from it – you are clearly in denial. The €87m failed to stop the referendum (political dialogue might have done so) and the police brutality only helped to fuel the pro-independence sentiment. Applying article 155 has not stopped the independence movement. Calling new elections on 21st December did not stop the independence movement. Arrest warrants and locking people up have not stopped the independence movement. And guess what? A text message exposed on a TV show hasn’t ended it, either. Rajoy’s career didn’t end with his ‘be strong’ text message to Barcenas, accused of handling all the ‘black money’ bribes for the PP. Why would over two million Catalans suddenly not want independence just because the man they voted for as their president (twice) has had a ‘bad’ or ‘down moment’, and all because the Spanish government won’t respect the results of the 21st December elections? Get real.
And the denial continues. Rajoy denies that his PP party is corrupt – going on air earlier in the week to claim that his party is ‘clean’ (yes, clean). Most importantly, his government denies that there is any political interference with Spain’s ‘justice’ system – yet day by day, something demonstrates that there clearly is. Some of the political interference in the justice system is to simply divert attention or corruption investigations away from the PP party itself. Other political interference relates to the Catalan independence issue, the Catalan Parliament, and the pre-‘trial’ imprisonments that are on-going. There are too many examples to list here, but the clearest of all took place last Saturday. Just before Spain’s Constitutional Court met to decide upon a possible long-distance investiture of Carles Puigdemont as Catalan president, members of the Spanish government, including Rajoy himself, contacted the magistrates, asking them ‘to sort it out this afternoon’, and transmitting the seriousness of the situation if they allowed an investiture to take place. In my opinion, it is a political and legal scandal in a so-called democratic Europe, that members of a government can call the courts to put pressure on a case, any case.
This week, The Economist Intelligence Unit ‘Democracy Index’ stated that Spain runs the risk of being downgraded to a “flawed democracy” following the national government’s attempts to stop Catalonia’s referendum in October. It deserves to be.
As mentioned above, the very best comments this week come from Ben Emmerson QC. He is leading a team of lawyers in London, Barcelona and Paris acting for three detained Catalan independence leaders. They have appealed to the United Nations, claiming the men are unlawfully imprisoned. Any determination made by the UN will not be binding on Spanish courts, but will be a signal of international disapproval. This was his statement at the press conference in London on Thursday 1st February:
“Spain has imprisoned three of those men. Oriol Junqueras, vice-president of Catalonia, and its minister of finance. Jordi Cuixart, a respected civil society leader and Jordi Sánchez, a member of the Catalan Parliament and President of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).
Each of them has been imprisoned since autumn of last year, in October and November, and their detention and continued imprisonment is an affront to Human Rights, designed to prevent them from performing their roles as political representatives of the Catalan people.
Today we have lodged on their behalf an application to the United Nations Working Group on arbitrary detention.
Their imprisonment by Spain clearly falls foul of international law and we ask the UN to make that Declaration and then to use all of the resources at its disposal to secure the release of these men. In particular, our application sets out that the imprisonment of Mr Junqueras, Mr Cuixart and Mr Sánchez violates their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, their rights to political opinion and participation in public life, and discriminates against them because of their advocacy for the rights of the Catalan people to self-determination.
The proceedings against them have also failed in a number of respects to meet international fair trial standards and as those familiar with the situation will know, over a hundred academics and Spanish legal experts have gone on record as confirming that the charges brought against them are unsustainable in the light of what has happened since there was no element of violence in the allegations of violence against them. Charges are purely political and in short, this is a classic case of arbitrary political detention.
I want to emphasise that this case does not, and I repeat not, ask the UN to adjudicate on the issue of Catalan independence. Rather it seeks the UN’s reaffirmation that governments cannot repress political dissent through arbitrary detention of opponents.
Spain must release these men. The actions of the Spanish government set a dangerous precedent for the right to peaceful protest and political opposition around the world, and we ask therefore for the UN to strongly reiterate that governments cannot use empty criminal charges to quell political opposition.”
In the Q & A, Ben Emmerson also said the following:
“Imagine for a moment, that the United Kingdom imprisoned the leaders of the Scottish National Party for advocating the independence of Scotland. That is the situation that we’re here confronted with. These detentions are arbitrary and belong to a bygone era of Spanish history.”