Un observador inglés (16) – From ‘Brand Spain’ to gang rape. Several things need to really change, and fast.

Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s delegate in Catalonia, said during the week that ‘the government of Spain is building confidence around the world, and everyone sees that we have a consolidated democracy.’ Well, let’s just consider that absolutely absurd claim, Enric, as we reflect on some of the week’s news, more or less in the order that events unfolded. Much of what has happened in Spain in the past 6 days has been slated and ridiculed in the international media, bringing further damage (if that’s possible) to ‘Brand Spain’ or ‘Marca España’ …

Last Sunday there were reports that a Spanish runner in the London Marathon spat in the face of a spectator carrying a Catalan flag; she was the daughter of another runner, a Catalan dermatologist. After the Spanish National Police had confiscated yellow T-shirts and scarves from Barcelona fans before the start of last Saturday’s Copa del Rey (in which the king of Spain was met with a ‘deafening whistle’ during the national anthem), questions were asked in the Spanish senate as to why. The Spanish government eventually denied that any order had been given, and insisted that it was a police and security decision.

Yellow roses featured prominently during Monday’s celebration of Sant Jordi across Catalonia, as a symbol of protest against the Catalan political prisoners. Spain finally began some civil war exhumations at the ‘Valley of the Fallen’ – Franco’s grotesque mausoleum. I say ‘some’ because there are around 34,000 civil war dead there (from both sides) – but only four were to be exhumed. Only in 2016 did a court finally approve the exhumation of two brothers executed by Francoist forces at the start of the civil war. ‘The bodies of Manuel Lapeña, a vet, and his brother Antonio, a blacksmith, were dumped in a mass grave in Calatayud, north-eastern Spain and then dug up decades later and reburied in the basilica without their families’ knowledge or permission,’ reported The Guardian. On Monday, the families weren’t even allowed access in order to witness the start of the search for exhumation.

Willy Toledo, the actor accused of insulting God and the Virgin Mary, failed to turn up for the court hearing (and nor did God and the Virgin Mary). Toledo has now been summoned again for 22nd May, and threatened with arrest if he fails to appear.

The ‘number two’ at the Spanish Treasury was reported as agreeing with his Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, in that there was no misuse of public funds for the 1st October referendum in Catalonia. It seems that five reports have already been issued stating the same thing. The news has been widely reported in the German press, as authorities there still await further evidence in the extradition request of Carles Puigdemont.

On Wednesday, the former president of the Assembly of the Council of Europe and current PP senator, Pedro Agramunt, was forced to deny all allegations against him in a report by an Independent Commission of the European institution that investigates possible corruption. He claimed it was ‘219 pages of lies’ which included reports of bribes, threesomes with prostitutes, envelopes containing €500 notes, bank transfers of €15,000, as well as gifts from Hermès and loads of caviar. He added, ‘I wish I could do these things’, but that he was ‘at an age’ and that ‘it was all false … a ridiculous accusation and without evidence.’ So there you go.

Both Oriol Junqueras and Jordi Cuixart have again requested to be moved to prisons in Catalonia; the request will no doubt be refused. Catalan MP Jordi Sànchez was ordered to remain 18 hours a day in his cell for a month as punishment for recording a voice message for last December’s electoral campaign … er, an electoral campaign in which he was legally allowed to stand as a candidate. The Spanish Constitutional Court (perhaps on the Spanish government’s instructions) has also ruled that Carles Puigdemont can’t actually be the President of Catalonia … er, despite also being allowed to stand in last December’s elections as the leader of his party, and despite gaining enough seats to retain his position as President in a coalition of the pro-independence groups. Indeed, The Times newspaper published an in-depth interview with Puigdemont this very weekend, referring to him as still the current Catalan President … as well as ‘Spain’s public enemy No.1.’ Meanwhile, Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, told German financial newspaper, Handelsblatt, that ‘any mediation [with Catalonia] through a third party would be a victory for Puigdemont, which he didn’t win at the ballot boxes.’

A security camera video (that had been kept concealed for seven years) emerged of Cristina Cifuentes, the PP president of Madrid’s regional government, stealing two tubs of Olay anti-ageing face cream, worth about €40, from an Eroski supermarket. Eroski’s security videos are normally erased after 15 days, so it is unclear how OK Diario obtained the footage and published it. Cifuentes had already been under pressure to resign over allegations that she’d faked her master’s degree, awarded by the King Juan Carlos University in Madrid – and on whom she’d tried to put the blame. Finally she resigned without using the word ‘resign’. Instead, she said she was stepping aside to not jeopardise her administration’s achievements and not allow the ‘leftist opposition’ to take control. It was reported that Rajoy had ordered her to resign before 12 noon, which was the start of the crucial budget debate.

The ‘News Council’ of Spain’s public broadcaster, TVE, has asked the European Parliament to evaluate whether the corporation fulfils ‘the principles of objectivity, plurality and impartiality’ in its efforts to denounce cases of ‘news manipulation and censorship’. Recent controversies included playing the theme tune of The Exorcist over images of Carles Puigdemont.

A judge dismissed the case of some municipal police who’d threatened the Madrid mayor, Manuela Carmena, in a WhatsApp chat. The hate speech, that included wishing her ‘an agonising death’ and referring to her as ‘a motherfucking red bitch’ was private, according to the judge. There were unconfirmed reports of people being paid €50 euros a night to go out and remove yellow ribbons and ‘free political prisoners’ posters, after videos emerged of men in balaclavas doing so. A 3,000 person human chain at Montserrat mountain was formed to demand freedom of Catalan political prisoners still in Spanish jails.

Spain’s Interior Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, wanted to give awards to the German police who detained Puigdemont. That was embarrassing in itself. The fact that the German authorities then said that they didn’t want him to, made it even more embarrassing. The story was picked up by The Washington Post, which explained that the government of Schleswig Holstein (where the 25th March arrest occurred) had refused to give Spain the names of the officers involved because they ‘only did their jobs’.

A video emerged of scenes outside the ‘bar fight’ in Alsasua, that appeared to contradict versions given at the trial by one of the off-duty Civil Guard officers attacked. Albert Rivera, leader of Spain’s Ciudadanos party, retweeted a collage photo published by El Mundo newspaper, identifying eight Catalan teachers under investigation for supposed ‘hate crimes’. He accused the Spanish government of cowardice for not applying further disciplinary measures. This man hopes to become the next Prime Minister of Spain.

Warning: this last piece of sickening Spanish news (and which became global news) might not be suitable for some people to read.

Back in July 2016, five men from Seville (including a Civil Guard officer and a military officer) gang raped – yes, gang raped – an 18 year old woman at the bull running festival in Pamplona. The men called themselves ‘la manada’ (or ‘wolf pack’) in their WhatsApp group. As the sickening ordeal was detailed by the three judges handling the trial, the victim was ‘penetrated in the mouth’ by all five men, in the vagina by two, and anally by another. None of the men used condoms. Two men filmed their crimes on mobile phones, and one also stole the victim’s phone. The judges described the victim as ‘crouching down’ in the videos, ‘shouting’, ‘moaning in pain’, ‘terrified’, ‘trapped against a wall’ and also ‘boxed in’ – and she was clearly ‘subject to the will’ of the attackers. The victim suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and still receives psychological treatment.

On Thursday, a Navarra court cleared the five men of rape, and found them guilty of just ‘sexual abuse’, with a sentence of just 9 years. Believe it or not, one of the three judges had even called for a not-guilty decision. Lawyers for the victim are appealing against the sentence. The article of the Spanish Criminal Code dealing with sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape makes a distinction between different crimes based on the presence, or not, of ‘violence or intimidation’ during the events. The judges ruled there had been no violence or intimidation used, and therefore no crime of rape. The verdict provoked an immediate public and social outcry, with more than 40 protests across Spanish towns and cities. The protests in Pamplona are on-going.

There are several things that need to really change in Spain, and fast.

Un observador inglés (15) – Who exactly issued the orders to confiscate yellow shirts and scarves?

I’d intended to blog about the main news from Spain and Catalonia again: fake masters, the fake accusations of violence from CDR groups, fake rebellion and terrorism charges, fake accusations of the misuse of public funds, the fake ‘negative effect’ on the economy of the Catalan independence process, the fake news about Russian ‘anti-Spain bots’ influencing the December 21st elections (despite what El Pais claimed), the fake town of Sant Esteve de les Roures, first invented by the Guardia Civil because of the ‘violence’ that took place there – and now peacefully (and hysterically) adopted on social media by the Catalans themselves. I was going to blog about Roberto Mesa, the activist accused of wanting to throw ‘the Bourbons to the sharks’ … or about the benefits of tax relief if you donate to the Francisco Franco Foundation … or about the actor Willy Toledo not turning up in court to answer accusations of insulting God (who didn’t turn up either, apparently) … or about Chinese ballot boxes, or the CaixaBank and the Chinese mafia … or Manuel Valls, Noam Chomsky, ETA’s apology, or judge Llarena v Cristóbal Montoro … or about Roger Torrent meeting UN officials and the mayor in Geneva … or Artur Mas meeting up with Nicola Sturgeon (and also Clara Ponsatí) in Edinburgh … or about Letizia opening a car door for her mother-in-law. Yeah, I was going to blog about all that ‘stuff’ … but I still can’t get over what happened before last night’s football match.

Yellow. It is just a colour.

Here are some questions for you, Spain. Who actually gave the order for Spanish National Police officers to confiscate yellow scarves and shirts from Barcelona fans (many of the items not even bearing any slogans at all) before last night’s ‘Copa del Rey’ final between Barcelona and Sevilla at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid? Out of curiosity, had there been a discussion or agreement in parliament beforehand? Or a decision taken at a government cabinet meeting? Was there a court order? Who ordered the police to confiscate yellow items? The owners of the stadium? The Spanish football federation? The police themselves? A judge? Spain’s minister of interior, Juan Ignacio Zoido? Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy? The crown? Who? Who’s in charge? Who’s actually running the country – I mean, who’s really running it? The reason I ask is simple: I don’t think he (or she) should be trusted with giving any future orders. If you can order your police force to confiscate yellow items, you could order them to do anything.

People say that Spain is still a democracy. Er … okay, I’d agree with that … but the image of Spain internationally, the ‘Brand Spain’ or Marca España, is piss-poor right now. And for many reasons: from the images broadcast aound the world of Spanish police brutality against innocent Catalan voters last October, to the Amnesty, UN and Human Rights Watch reports about the suppression of freedom of expression in Spain, right up to the current and on-going farce of the European Arrest Warrents based upon non-existent ‘rebellion’ charges. Now the images of FC Barcelona football fans (captured by trusted news crews) having to remove yellow shirts or scarves – and I repeat, many of these items without any slogans on them at all – will stick with me for a long time. Do not try and compare this to the FA’s ruling of Pep Guardiola’s yellow ribbon. Do not go there. Many of these were blank yellow shirts and scarves. Some people will argue that they don’t want to see ‘political slogans’ at sporting events – and that the police had to remove all yellow shirts to make sure that all slogans were removed. No, sorry … I disagree. Don’t forget that yellow is not only 50% of the colour of the Catalan (and Spanish) flag, but it is also found on FC Barelona’s emblem, and I believe the colour is also often very visible on some of the club’s other souvenirs and shirts, such as the ‘away shirt’ and training shirts. It is a colour. What has Spain become? Seriously, what has Spain become? It’s a country I love, but this just … well, it just pisses me off, to be honest.

Not every Catalan supporter of FC Barcelona also supports the independence of Catalonia – far from it – but I’m pretty sure that a large percentage of them would have liked to have had a ‘legally agreed’ referendum on the subject to decide upon the matter themselves, rather than witness their friends, fellow citizens and family members being beaten by Spanish security forces last October. I’m also sure that not every Barcelona fan arrived at the stadium last night with the intention of whistling during the national anthem – but again, thanks to the Striesand effect, being told not to do something often has the opposite effect. I’m also pretty sure that a very large percentage of Barcelona fans would like to see the political prisoners released (especially as the charges against them don’t add up). And, okay, yes – the colour associated with the release of the political prisoners is yellow – first through the yellow ribbon, and also through many posters, and with yellow scarves (banned for people working at polling stations in the Catalan elections last 21st December, called by Rajoy). Personally, I’d say that a yellow ribbon seeking the release of political prisoners is not necessarily a political ‘slogan’, but rather a call for democracy. I also always find it very odd that those who insist that there aren’t any political prisoners in Spain are often the same people who don’t want to see yellow ribbons and scarves … because they claim that the ‘yellow’ is a ‘political message’.

On Friday, just in time for the weekend, Spain’s Interior Ministry tweeted the following message: ‘The Penal Code specifies what is considered terrorism. We’re sharing it in case anyone needs to reflect on it over the weekend. Everyone else, go and rest, the Guardia Civil and National Police look out for everyone’s security.’ Spain’s National Police also tweeted before yesterday’s game, stating that the national anthem ‘represents us all’, and that ‘it is a symbol of a country, of a history … today, and always, respect it and don’t offend those who feel proud about it.’ Zoido had warned against whistling during the national anthem – referring to it as ‘violence’. But he hadn’t warned anyone that turning up at the stadium with a yellow scarf or T-shirt could mean that you might enter the stadium bare-chested …

You can argue that you don’t want to see yellow ‘pro-independence’ T-shirts or ‘free political prisoners’ messages at a sporting event – yes, you can argue that – you can have your own opinion about all that. I don’t have to agree with you. There were some pro-independent Estelada flags visible, anyway. For Spanish National Police officers to order football fans to remove blank yellow T-shirts, however – and for the stadium’s stewards to point out to security staff fans wearing blank yellow scarves – also ordering them to be handed over – well, I just find that revolting. I repeat: it is a colour, for fucksake. Rant over.

Un observador inglés (14) – It is now Germany’s fault. Last week it was the international media. Next week it will be Scotland. It is never Spain’s fault.

Let’s start with the guy on a horse who I didn’t include in last week’s blog, the one who’d posted a video of himself on Facebook saying, ‘Long live Spain!’ and ‘Long live Franco!’ – it was even reported that he was a former Spanish Foreign ‘legionnaire’. He said other stuff on the video, too. He said Carles Puigdemont was a ‘queer sewer rat bastard’, ‘a piece of shit, a parasite’, and that he hoped the Civil Guard put him ‘in a cage and transported him to the centre of Madrid in the back of a van for 16 hours’. Once Puigdemont was in Madrid, he hoped ‘prisoners fucked him in the ass non-stop, raped him and left him pregnant by one of those bastard Moors’. Then he said the ‘Viva España!’ and ‘Viva Franco!’ bit. There was another photo of him on social media greeting Xavier García Albiol, the ‘leader’ of what’s left in Catalonia of Spain’s ruling PP party, and the man recently referenced as an example of racist politics in a Council of Europe report.

The reason I’ve started with the guy on the horse is not because (as far as I know) he’s been allowed to say what he said without any legal repercussions … unlike, for example, insulting God or the Virgin Mary, or singing songs that criticise the king of Spain, which can land you in prison for over 2 years. No, it’s because of the anger and search for violence. I can only imagine the abuse he spat out on Thursday evening, after the news of Puigdemont’s release in Germany, when he realised the Catalan leader wouldn’t be spending 16 hours in the back of a van to Madrid to be fucked in the ass non-stop. I’m sure he blamed Germany and all Germans for this change of plan, in the same way many other Spaniards have done. It’s the Blame Game in Spain under this PP government, you see – it’s always someone else’s fault. It is never Spain’s fault. Don’t forget that foreign robots are to blame for the images of 1st October. And it’s worse: they’ve started to believe their own lies.

Last week, it was the international media who were to blame for Spain’s inability to politically and democratically resolve the Catalan crisis. The Times newspaper was blamed by the Spanish Ambassador in London for its critical editorials of Mariano Rajoy’s government. Similarly, Le Monde, The Financial Times, Der Spiegel, The Guardian and The Washington Post have all been criticised for recommending political dialogue, or for demanding the release of political prisoners, or for questioning Spain’s democracy, the existence of the Franco Foundation or Franco’s grotesque mausoleum, or reporting on Spain’s ‘medieval’ Easter parades and the bizarre ‘tradition’ of singing Franco songs like ‘The Bridegrooms of Death’. How dare we criticise Spain (or Francoism)?

In the past few months, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Amnesty International and even the United Nations Human Rights Committee have all been blamed for something or other – from questioning human rights and freedom of speech in Spain, or for simply allowing Catalan politicians to stay and move around freely in their own countries, permitting them to hold press conferences and participate in debates, and even welcoming them with open arms. The PP’s Spain blames everyone else, not Spain itself, and never Rajoy. Right now, at the time of writing this, it’s the same with the Cristina Cifuentes ‘Master falsification’ story, brilliantly uncovered by journalists at El Diario online newspaper. But it is not Cifuentes’s fault that her qualifications have been falsified. No, it is El Diario’s fault for uncovering the story. How dare they? Oh, and their sources are also to blame.

Mikko Kärnä, a Finnish MP, has sent messages to both Mariano Rajoy and the king of Spain, complaining of the ‘feedback’ he’s received from some Spanish citizens whilst defending the right for Catalans to have a vote, and also for simply hosting Carles Puigdemont in Finland. One such ‘feedback’, he posted, was: ‘[You] son of a great whore, I shit on your fucking mother, if they expel Spain [from EU] I come to your country and I behead you all and your family.’ But all this is Finland’s fault, of course, not Spain’s. And then there’s a Spanish politician, Antonio Miguel Carmona, actually a PSOE member in Madrid, calling a German MP an ‘idiot’ for offering his house to Puigdemont in Germany … it just goes on and on.

So, yes, this week it was Germany’s turn to be blamed for Spain’s total failure to peacefully, politically and democratically resolve the Catalan pro-independence issue. All Germans are to blame, actually – especially those living in Mallorca. According to Spain’s ‘top right-wing radio guru’ (or simply put, a ‘nutter’), Federico Jiménez Losantos, those 200,000 Germans living in the Baleares could become hostages, and breweries in Bavaria could start to blow up. I actually cringed with embarrassment for Spain, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ‘Brand Spain’ itself when I read that the police in Germany were aware of the ‘threats’ and would be looking into the matter. I think the Audiovisual Board of Catalonia are also ‘analysing’ the issue (and so they should), but there’s been no comment or apology from any Spanish politician, as far as I know. You see, Germany is to blame, not Losantos.

Despite Germany’s Justice Minister, Katarina Barley, saying that the Schleswig-Holstein court’s decision on Carles Puigdemont’s release was ‘absolutely right’ – Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, has still labelled her remarks as ‘unfortunate’. But, hey, you know … he’s the same guy who told the BBC and CNN that the images of Spanish police brutality against innocent Catalan votes on 1st October were fake. Katarina Barley went further with her comments. Having dismissed the crime of rebellion, the only offence that could prompt Puigdemont’s extradition would be the misuse of public funds – and according to Barley, ‘it won’t be easy’ for Spain to prove it. The above-mentioned example of a racist politician (according to the Council of Europe), Albiol, warned that the German court’s decision could undermine Spanish citizens’ trust in the European Union’s extradition mechanism. So you see … it’s the EU’s extradition mechanism that is also to blame, not Spain. Then there’s the PP spokesman in Brussels, Esteban González Pons, also criticising Germany, saying that because the European Arrest Warrant didn’t work, the whole Schengen Treaty ‘doesn’t make sense.’ You get the drift? It’s the Schengen Treaty that’s also to blame … not Spain. Never, ever Spain.

This week, there was also an unprecedented message delivered by David Kaye, a UN Human Rights expert. He urged the Spanish authorities to refrain from the criminal charge of rebellion against political figures and protestors in Catalonia that carry jail sentences of up to 30 years. Such sentences ‘raise serious risks of deterring wholly legitimate speech’. I believe that during this coming week, a Scottish judge will also refuse to extradite Clara Ponsatí on the charge of rebellion. Why? Because a rebellion simply did not take place. It will then be Scotland’s turn to be blamed. Not Spain. Never Spain.

El Punt-Avui TV (13) – European Arrest Warrants, extraditions – and Trapero.

I was invited back on ‘The English Hour’ on El Punt-Avui TV yesterday, a local Barcelona TV channel, hosted by Matthew Tree, alongside two other guests, Gary Gibson and Anet Duncan. The programme was actually recorded about an hour before the news broke from Germany regarding Carles Puigdemont’s release on bail, and the fact that Spain’s (trumped up) charges of rebellion are not enough to extradite him. I think it is interesting to reflect on our discussion about those still imprisoned in Madrid, the European Arrest Warrants, the extradition process, and the international lawyers. We also discuss the charges against Trapero and other Mossos officers. Here’s the link to the full programme: El Punt-Avui TV (13)

Here are some links to previous appearances on the same show:

El Punt-Avui TV (12).

El Punt-Avui TV (11)

El Punt-Avui TV (10)

El Punt-Avui TV (9)

El Punt-Avui TV (8)

El Punt-Avui TV (7)

El Punt-Avui TV (6)

El Punt-Avui TV (5)

El Punt-Avui TV (4)

El Punt-Avui TV (3)

El Punt-Avui TV (2)

El Punt-Avui TV (1)

Un observador inglés (13) – Dear Spain, don’t criticise the international media. Blame your own government.

Six months ago today, Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, failed to stop a referendum in Catalonia taking place – despite saying he would, and despite spending over €87m brutally trying to prevent it, deploying the Spanish National Police and Guardia Civil to attack innocent voters of all ages. In the weeks prior to 1st October 2017, Rajoy’s right-wing Spanish government warned its country’s media against publishing any advertisements about the referendum, sending Guardia Civil agents to editorial offices in Catalonia – effectively banning them from doing so. Not only did it try to censor the Catalan media (in addition to clearly controlling certain media in Madrid), but it also blocked websites and apps that gave balanced and practical information about the referendum, or on how to vote. They searched printers for ballot cards (even the car boot of a printing company’s cleaner), banned posters, events and debates, blocked telephone operators and even threatened to cut off the power, clearly violating human rights and the freedom of speech. And now … for that same government and its ‘diplomats’ to openly criticise the international media for reporting the true facts about what happened before, during and since 1st October, it is an utter disgrace.

Spain is a country full of rich material for foreign writers. But not only has Rajoy spectacularly failed to defuse the Catalan issue (in fact he’s done more for independence than anyone else on the planet), but his actions have also unearthed Spain’s underlying fascism and Francoism for us all to see. It was obviously always there … but it is now clearly visible. As Ian Gibson, the renowned Hispanist and biographer, said on Deutsche Welle radio: ‘The Spanish right-wing says that it isn’t Francoist but it has Francoism in its genes, in its DNA. It’s outrageous.’ This Francoism is ugly, Spain. It’s very ugly, and you need to do something about it. But that does not mean telling us not to write about it.

In a weird sense, I’m glad that this whole issue is now in the hands of top lawyers in Germany, Scotland, Switzerland and Belgium. I’m glad that the media from all over the world are reporting on it all, in every language. The EU Commission and Juncker himself have done bugger all. It needs international lawyers and the international media to continue to expose the truth, and if Spain’s ‘ambassadors’ don’t like it, then … tough. Get proper jobs. As the top human rights lawyer, Aamer Anwar, who is representing Clara Ponsatí in Scotland, said the other day: ‘Our defence in court may make uncomfortable reading for the Spanish government in the full glare of international scrutiny. We are confident that the outcome will make it even more so.’ Go for it.

I’ve written here before about my experiences of 1st October, and how I was incensed that the ‘Madrid media’ failed to report on the true events – unlike the international (and Catalan) media. It incensed me that the EU remained silent. It incensed me that Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, went on CNN and BBC stating that the images of police brutality were ‘fake news’. It incensed me and it still does. Late October (I think it was), Spanish ‘politician’ Juan Carlos Girauta, the C’s spokesman, voiced his concern in Congress about the international media’s coverage of events in Spain, appearing to suggest that it should be better controlled (he then blocked me on Twitter and I wasn’t even following him). This time last week, the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, said on his LBC radio show, about the detention of Carles Puigdemont in Germany: ‘I thought European Arrest Warrants were for drug smugglers and criminals, not for democratically-elected political opponents of the Spanish government.’ We’ve since had the weekly German magazine, Stern, comparing Rajoy to Milosevic – and The New York Times reporting that ‘Spain is creating a situation where Europe’s judges rather than its own politicians are being asked to solve Catalonia’ – yes, because Rajoy is used to getting his judges in Spain to resolve his ineptitude. In the past few days, Spanish ambassadors, diplomats and Spanish authors have criticised The Washington Post, Le Monde, The Times and other international media for daring to question Spain’s democracy, calling it a ‘campaign of disrepute’. But, no, no, it’s not a campaign of disrepute. It’s called reporting the truth.

There was no ‘rebellion’ in the weeks prior to the Catalan referendum of 1st October, nor on the day itself, nor was there since. There was no ‘violence’ – except the violence carried out by Spain’s national police and Guardia Civil. As far as I know (and as far as some videos now show Rajoy appearing to also confirm it), there was no ‘misuse of public funds’, either. So why are there nine political prisoners in Spain (still without any trial) and a further seven in self-imposed exile fighting extradition charges? The fact is this: there shouldn’t be. It is clearly an injustice, and it is up to the international lawyers and foreign media to finally expose it. Someone has to.

Conversation with Alex Salmond on LBC Radio

Here’s my discussion about European Arrest Warrants with the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, on his LBC radio show yesterday (25 March 2018). Alex says in his introduction, ‘I thought EAWs were for drug smugglers and criminals, not for democratically-elected political opponents of the Spanish government’. Here’s the audio:

Un observador inglés (12) – This needs international mediation, not international arrest warrants.

The news is breaking fast – faster than usual – and so it’s just a short blog this week for various reasons.

This time last Sunday, Carles Puigdemont was in Geneva, attending the ‘International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights’. From there, he went to Finland. At the time of writing this, he has been detained in Germany, on his return to Belgium, as a result of Spanish judge Llarena reactivating a European Arrest Warrant for him, as well as for other Catalan politicians in self-imposed/forced exile. Time will tell what the German authorities will do – but Spanish prosecutors are already trying to force an extradition order. Switzerland has already stated that it will not proceed with any extraditions on political motives (politicians Anna Gabriel and Marta Rovira are in Switzeland). I’d personally be surprised if the UK also extradited Clara Ponsatí, who is teaching at St.Andrews University in Scotland. She’d travelled to Austria, and then also visited Munich and London (where she took part in a protest) last week, all before the EAW was reissued. Three other Catalan politicians remain in Belgium, where they have already complied with legal authorities there … at least when the EAW was initially issued and then later withdrawn.

I could try and sum up the week’s news … I could mention the Telva photographs of Ines Arrimadas in the Catalan Parliament, or Cristina Cifuentes’s (non-existent?) university grades, or the Belgium v Spain rugby match, or the Director of Communications for the European Parliament receiving the ‘Orden de Isabel la Católica’ Award from Spain (why? why?), or about Puigdemont’s foreign trips causing ‘certain discomfort’ to Spain’s foreign minister (obviously), or about N.Sarkozy being investigated for election funding fraud (unlike M.Rajoy), or that ‘far-right clowns’ dressed up in Guardia Civil uniforms tried to break into Puigdemont’s house in Belgium, or that Joaqium Forn was denied release from prison again, even with €100k bail … or that the imprisoned Jordi Sánchez relinquished his candidacy for the Catalan Presidency to Jordi Turull, who has now also been imprisoned, along with 4 others: Carme Forcadell, Raül Romeva, Dolors Bassa and Josep Rull. Because that is the real news. Yes … there are now 9 Catalan politicians in prison, and 7 others in self-imposed/forced exile (at the time of writing). They are all where they are because of Spain’s trumped-up charges of plotting and/or actually causing a ‘rebellion’; in reality, they tried to organise a vote, a referendum.

I’ve written here before about the unjust justice system in Spain. I’ve written about the ghosts of Francoism. I’ve written about Felipe VI’s diabolical speech on the Catalan issue, (and here, tooand here), and why I think the EU’s handling of it all stinks. I’ve written about the recent reports criticising Human Rights and freedom of expression in Spain. And I’ve written several times about the need for dialogue and mediation in this whole Spain/Catalonia affair.

From my point of view, 9 Catalan politicians are in jail and 7 others are in exile for one simple reason: Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, refuses to accept the results of the Catalan elections that he himself called on 21 December last year, after also applying article 155 to Catalonia. That, again in my opinion, is a disgrace. It is even more of a disgrace that the EU Commission has turned a blind eye to it. This doesn’t need international arrest warrants. It needs international mediation. And it now needs it urgently.

Un observador inglés (11) – Thou must not Tweet, protest, insult God, the Virgin Mary or the Crown.

Sometimes the week’s news from Spain, Catalonia (and Geneva) needs little or no further commentary. It’s been one of those weeks …

A French documentary film, ‘Catalonia: Spain on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’, is to be screened today, Sunday 18th March, at the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) in Geneva. It is a very apt end to the week, especially as the screening is to be followed by a discussion with Carles Puigdemont. Tickets for his talk sold out as soon as it was announced – with media ‘from half of Europe’ asking to attend. I think Spain’s Public Prosecutor’s Office was also touting for a ticket via Interpol – but not to listen to the talk. They probably wanted to sneak in and smuggle Puigdemont back to Madrid, but the Federal Office of Justice in Switzerland has made it very clear that it doesn’t carry out extraditions for political reasons. Not many countries do, actually. It’s called ‘normality’. It’s why Spain has withdrawn the European Arrest Warrant for Puigdemont, and not issued one for CUP politician Anna Gabriel (who’s also in Switzerland), nor for Clara Ponsati, the former Catalan education minister, who was in self-imposed exile in Brussels but has now moved to Scotland to teach at St.Andrew’s University. On the way, she took part in a demonstration in London (with no problem at all) against Spain’s political prisoners, and was also interviewed by BBC Scotland and other UK media. I imagine a request to extradite her for helping to organise a referendum in Catalonia would be laughed out of a court in Scotland. Literally.

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) has confirmed that Puigdemont’s visit to Switzerland is a ‘private invitation’. He will remain there at least until Wednesday, when he’s also giving a talk at the Graduate Institute on ‘separatism, self-determination and the future of Europe’. On Tuesday 20th March, there are also side events (under the banner of ‘Human Rights Regression in Spain’) at the 37th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council. The events include ‘The Right to Self-Determination in the 21st Century’ and ‘Breaches of Fundamental Rights in the EU: The Catalan Case’. The wife of imprisoned Jordi Cuixart, Txell Bonet, and another exiled minister, Meritxell Serret, will also attend. The internationalisation of the Catalan issue is growing stronger by the week.

Today’s screening in Geneva is also apt because it hasn’t been a particularly positive week on all matters related to ‘human rights’ and ‘freedom of expression’ in Spain. On Tuesday – ironically the same day that the City Council of Barcelona was ordered to replace a bust of king Juan Carlos I from its plenary hall (after it had been removed in July 2015) – the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), based in Strasbourg, unanimously ruled that Spain had wrongfully condemned two Catalans for burning photos of the king in 2007. Enric Stern and Jaume Roura had been found guilty of ‘insulting the monarchy’ 11 years ago. They had initially been sentenced to 15 months in prison, but it was later reduced to a fine. The ECHR ruled that burning the photos was ‘justifiable political criticism’, freedom of expression, and that it could not be ‘construed as incitement to hatred or violence’. The court ordered Spain to reimburse the €2700 fine imposed, as well as €9000 in legal costs. Some people went out to celebrate by burning photos of the king.

On that same day, Tuesday, a report was published by Amnesty International, entitled, ‘Tweet … if you dare: how counter-terrorism laws restrict freedom of expression in Spain’. It criticised Spain for a ‘sustained attack on freedom of speech’, that the country’s law against glorification of terrorism was ‘draconian’ – and that people shouldn’t face jail simply for saying, tweeting or singing something that might be distasteful or shocking. The report concluded that the toughening of the law in 2015 had led to ‘increasing self-censorship and a broader chilling effect on freedom of expression in Spain’. Amnesty’s International Media Manager, Stefan Simanowitz, tweeted, ‘Question: Which of these could land you in prison in Spain … tweeting a joke, posting a YouTube video, rapping, or holding a puppet show? Answer: all of them.’

If this isn’t enough, a couple of days ago the ‘miracle’ of all news broke, thanks to an ‘association of Christian attorneys’. Spanish actor, Willy Toledo, who’d posted something about God and the Virgin Mary on Facebook in July last year, is to be investigated by a Spanish judge for insulting them. Yes, you read that correctly. He is to be investigated for insulting God and the Virgin Mary. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook seemed okay with the post last year, apparently … but not God and the Virgin Mary. As you can imagine, I have a couple of questions about this: will God and the Virgin Mary be called to testify? How do they know that God and the Virgin Mary are insulted? Someone mentioned that in 2014, Spain’s former interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, awarded a medal to the Virgin Mary … and so he might know.

In other news, Joaquim Forn, the former Catalan interior minister who has been imprisoned without trial, has now been diagnosed with ‘pulmonary tuberculosis’ at Estremera jail. Not only has he been imprisoned without trial, therefore, but he’s clearly been imprisoned without heating and medicine, too – and they’re refusing to release him for treatment. It is a disgrace.

This week, too, in a country where the Francisco Franco Foundation freely exists (‘don’t mention Franco’) and the ex-assistant of the king of Spain has recently been named its president, the Catalan grassroots cultural and civic organisation, Omnium Cultural – an NGO with more than 50 years of history and over 100,000 members – had its headquarters shut down and searched by the Guardia Civil for the second time in six weeks. Seven employees were initially held. A Spanish judge ordered that if Omnium summoned people to demonstrate around its HQ whilst the Guardia Civil was raiding it, then they would be committing a crime of ‘sedition’. About 9 months ago, I didn’t even know what ‘sedition’ was. Then I learnt that it was ‘inciting people to rebel [and I presume ‘rebellion’ means with violence] against the authority of a state or monarch’. I didn’t realise it also included peaceful protest and demonstrations, though, but in Spain it seems to.

At the time of writing, it is still precisely unclear why a Senegalese immigrant and street vendor, Mmame Mbage, died in the Lavapiés district of Madrid the other night. There are some reports that he collapsed and died from a heart attack, before any police aggression. What is clear, however, is that there are some disturbing photographs and videos of police action in the area.

Spain’s National Police decided that an incident where a black African actor, Marius Makon, who suffered bleeding above the eye after being hit in the head with a beer bottle by a woman who’d said, ‘I don’t want to see blacks in here’ in a bar in the Móstoles area of Madrid … would not be investigated as a racist crime.

Yesterday, mass demonstrations by pensioners took place across Spain and against the Spanish government, all demanding dignified pensions and to be re-evaluated in line with the cost of living. Meanwhile, the king of Spain was photographed skiing with his family.

What else happened? Oh, yeah. Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has started a video blog. It is probably what he meant last week when he said he’s going to do everything possible and even the impossible, if the impossible is also possible.

Un observador inglés (10) – Foreign robots … and Catch 155.

Whilst writing this week’s blog, some very sad news came in. The body of 8 year old, Gabriel Cruz, was found near Níjar, Almeria. He’d been missing for 12 days. His body was found in the car boot of the girlfriend of the boy’s father. RIP.

This time last week, Carles Puigdemont, already exiled in Brussels, was ‘himself to blame’, according to a report from an office of the Spanish Interior Ministry, of being threatened by someone riding on top of a Spanish Army tank. Yes, you read that correctly. It was Puigdemont’s own fault that someone on top of a tank had threatened him. As Puigdemont himself pointed out, in Spain there are “innocent people in preventive detention for their ideology”, and “MPs, mayors, singers, car mechanics and clowns being prosecuted” – indeed, it is a country right now where art has been censored, rappers receive long prison sentences for criticising the royal family, yet fascism is rife and political corruption goes mainly unpunished … oh, and you can threaten Puigdemont from the top of a tank and get away with it.

It’s been one of those weeks again. The deputy Prime Minister of Spain, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, labelled as ‘foreign robots’ those people who published and circulated photos of Spanish police brutality against innocent Catalan voters on 1st October. Yes, you read that correctly, too. Foreign robots. That includes me. I’m a foreign robot. It also includes the BBC, CNN, Sky News – actually, it includes every media outlet in the world – and every human rights observer, too. They’re all foreign robots, according to little Soraya. You probably thought she was a robot, but no – it’s the other way round.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is clearly a foreign robot, too. He won’t be receiving a Christmas card from Soraya. Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council this week, he criticised the use of Spanish police violence on 1st October. “I was dismayed by the violence which broke out during October’s referendum on independence in Catalonia,” he said. “Given what appeared to be excessive use of force by police, the government’s characterization of police action on 1st October as ‘legal, legitimate and necessary’ is questionable.” He also reminded the Spanish government that “pre-trial detention should be considered a measure of last resort” – and he also encouraged “resolution of the situation through political dialogue”.

What else happened? Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the PSOE (once upon a time a political party and/or an ‘opposition’) announced that Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, should table a motion of no confidence in himself if he fails to pass the budget on 23rd March. Yes, you read that correctly again: he should, not must. Sánchez didn’t say he’d force a motion of no confidence, only that Rajoy should volunteer to do so. Gosh, crikey … really strong words from Sánchez, therefore. Rajoy, meanwhile, continued to say some crazy stuff. And I mean really crazy stuff. This week, it was: “I will speak with absolute clarity. I will do everything I can and a little more than I can, if that is possible, and I will do everything possible and even the impossible, if the impossible is also possible.” Don’t forget, he’s being paid to say stuff like that.

Martin Glenn, Chief Executive of the Football Association (FA), said in reference to the yellow ribbon worn by Pep Guardiola in support of political prisoners: “I can tell you there are many more Spaniards, non-Catalans, who are pissed off by it.” Yes, Martin, but what Spaniards actually told you they were pissed off? Anyone ‘high up’? Were you pressured to do something about it? Pep was eventually fined £20,000 by the FA … for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of political prisoners, although Spain insists there aren’t any political prisoners.

Four judicial associations in Spain called for stoppages, without ruling out an indefinite strike, if the Spanish government doesn’t improve upon “professional conditions and the separation of powers”. Media entrepreneur, Jaume Roures, himself ‘under suspicion’ for allegedly helping the Catalan independence movement, stated in an interview that, “It’s like MacCarthyism, but in Europe – or like when they separated people on buses by the colour of their skin.”

Around 5.3m people joined the International Women’s Day strike across Spain on Thursday 8th March – a truly historic event. Clara Ponsati, former Catalan education minister, and who has been in self-imposed exile in Brussels (alongside Carles Puigdemont, Meritxell Serret, Toni Comín and Lluís Puig), has announced that she is returning to teach at the University of St.Andrews in Scotland. It seems that she is already in Scotland.

Catalan Parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, announced that he’d signed a resolution to formally propose Jordi Sánchez, currently one of Spain’s political prisoners (yes, he is a political prisoner), for investiture as Catalan president – with the debate scheduled for 12th March. This came about after Carles Puigdemont’s annoucement last week to ‘provisionally’ renounce his own candidacy as Catalan president – as well as his decision to take the Spanish state to the Committee of Human Rights of the United Nations. Jordi Sánchez petitioned to a Spanish judge to be released in order to attend the investiture debate … but you can guess the rest: Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled to keep him in prison. The investiture debate has been postponed whilst Sànchez appeals to the European Court of Human Rights. Spanish government members have cleverly observed that ‘you can’t run the Catalan government from prison’ … which is exactly why Sànchez is being kept in prison (and without any trial), so that he can’t run the Catalan government. It’s Catch 22. Or Catch 155.

A major pro-independence rally calling for the implementation of the Catalan Republic has just got underway here in Barcelona. I’ve just also seen a report that Spain has announced the appointment of a ‘Fake News Ambassador’. I don’t know if that is to combat fake news (or news they claim is fake), or to create fake news, but I’ll try to find out …

Un observador inglés (9) – Don’t mention Franco. I mentioned him once, but I think I got away with it.

To explain (if needed) the title of this week’s blog: in perhaps the most famous episode of Fawlty Towers, the manic hotel manager, Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, has a major problem behaving in front of some German guests. ‘Don’t mention the war!’ he says to one of his staff. ‘I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.’ Then, returning to the shocked German guests to take their food order, he can’t stop himself: ‘So, that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads.’ ‘Will you stop talking about the war?’ cries one of the guests. ‘Me? You started it!’ retorts Basil. ‘We did not start it!’ comes the reply. ‘Yes, you did,’ insists Basil, ‘you invaded Poland.’ First broadcast in 1975, it was a brilliant mockery, not of Germans, but of Basil Fawlty himself – the fact that there were people like Basil who regarded all Germans as being responsible for Nazi Germany, and the rise and support of Adolf Hitler. 1975. Just keep that in mind for a moment …

Here’s a quick recap on some of the week’s news, as I think it helps to put things in perspective:

On Monday, the pro-government (& pro-monarchy) media in Spain reported that the negative reception Felipe VI received in Barcelona [I wrote about Felipe & ‘rocket science’ here], and the snub from the city’s mayor and the speaker of the Catalan parliament, all put the future of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in jeopardy. Er … it wasn’t true. The MWC has just completed one of its most successful events ever held in Barcelona. Here are some key figures from the press release of the organisers, GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association), issued on 1st March, entitled ‘GSMA wraps up hugely successful Mobile World Congress 2018’: more than 107,000 visitors from 205 countries, including more than 7,700 CEOs – up from 6,100 CEOs in 2017. More than 2,400 exhibitors, more than 3,500 international media and industry analysts, and the 2018 MWC contributed approximately €471m and over 13,000 part-time jobs to the local economy. ‘We had another highly successful Mobile World Congress, on so many fronts,’ said John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA. He said the event was ‘one of our most successful ever’, and that the only disappointment was the weather. The press release crucially also confirms: ‘MWC 2019 will be held 25-28 Feb 2019 in Barcelona’ and that it ‘will be hosted in Barcelona through 2023.’

Just think. If Spain’s pro-government media were scaremongering about the negative impact on the MWC of Felipe VI’s reception in Barcelona, do you think they’ve distorted the truth about a few other things, too? I mean, 3,000 major corporations (including banks, car manufacturers, telecom operators, food and drinks groups) have ‘apparently’ closed their businesses and moved their HQs out of Catalonia, leaving thousands of staff redundant and office blocks empty. So, did the MWC participants notice anything different? No! Of course not! Banks were still open, cashpoints worked, cars were still visible, hotels, restaurants and bars were still open, the shops were full and selling loads of great stuff, the telecoms worked, the infrastructure worked, and you could still eat jamón, drink Damm or Moritz beer, Freixenet or Cordoníu cava, and even rent or buy a Seat VW car if you wanted to. Visitors probably also found that the Catalans were willing and able to speak to them in any language required: English, French and Spanish.

Also in the news … thanks to the Streisand effect, every major media outlet in the world explained very clearly why Pep Guardiola wears a yellow ribbon: it is in protest at Spain’s political prisoners. A TV reporter in Spain, however, inferred that it was to support a charity to fight prostate cancer.

The Times newspaper published a scathing editorial about the situation in Spain, stating that the ‘Spanish government’s imprisonment of pro-independence activists was plainly excessive … pre-trial detention has raised questions among civil rights organisations across Europe’ and that ‘Spain should allow Puigdemont and other leaders to return and enter a dialogue’. The Economist published an article entitled, ‘Why Spanish courts censor art, speech and rap lyrics’. Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s delegate in Catalonia, said on radio that ‘technically, there were no [police] charges on 1st October’ against Catalan voters … despite Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and hundreds of other international organisations and observers, as well as the global media, clearly witnessing it for themselves.

Xavier García Albiol, the leader of the PP party in Catalonia (what’s left of it), and a man tall enough to play basketball (I mention that because he’s criticised others’ real qualifications) – was named as an example of racist and xenophobic politics in a report issued by the Council of Europe. In any other country, that would be seen as a disgrace. On Twitter, I wrote that Albiol would consider it as an award. He blocked me.

650 lawyers from around Spain denounced the violation of rights in Catalonia to Europe. Despite accusing many Catalan politicians with malfeasance of public funds (part of the arguments for why there are still 4 political prisoners jailed without trial in Spain), Rajoy’s government admitted that the Catalan government spent €0 in organising the Catalan Referendum on 1st October … a referendum that Rajoy spent over €87m trying to prevent. Spain demanded the resignation of Albert Ginjaume, Finland’s honorary consul in Barcelona, apparently because he had lunch with a pro-independence supporter. Spain has now also demanded an explanation from the Peruvian ambassador after the Pervuvian honorary consul in Barcelona voiced support for the dismissed Finnish consul. This ‘diplomatic inquisition’ looks set to continue.

The Spanish government has vetoed any investigation by Congress about the relationship with Spain’s intelligence services and the Imam of Ripoll, the ringleader of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last August. 500 trade union representatives from all over Europe campaigned for the immediate release of political prisoners. Pensioners held mass protests against the Spanish government. The house being rented for Jorge Moragas, Spain’s UN ambassador in New York (previously Rajoy’s cabinet chief, and mainly responsible for his diabolical policies in Catalonia) has 11 bedrooms and a squash court. The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) has compiled a list of countries that use excessive police violence against demonstrators, criticising them in front of the UN. Spain is on the list alongside Congo, Togo, Sudan and Honduras. Another rapper, Pablo Hasél, has been sentenced to two years in prison for ‘injuries to the crown’ and ‘crimes of glorifying terrorism’, after posting messages on Twitter and uploading a song on YouTube. An ex-assistant to Spain’s king emeritus, Juan Carlos I, is to become the president of the ‘Francisco Franco Foundation’ (yes, there really is a Franco foundation) … and which brings us back to Franco (not that he was clearly ever gone in any of the above news). The Spanish government has said it is not going to exhume any of the 33,000 victims buried at Franco’s mausoleum, the ‘Valle de los Caídos’, as it is too expensive. It did, however, spend around €2m maintaining the mausoleum over the past few years, and it did find funds to exhume members of the ‘División Azul’ [the Blue Division, a Spanish force that also fought for Hitler] and repatriate them. A group of MEPs visited the mausoleum on Friday and called it an ‘insult’.

Franco. Don’t mention Franco. I’ve mentioned him a few times now but hopefully I’ve got away with it. Carles Puigdemont mentioned Franco this week, too – as part of an exclusive interview published in The Guardian newspaper, coinciding with his decision to take the Spanish state to the Committee of Human Rights of the United Nations, as well as ‘provisionally’ renounce his candidacy as Catalan president. ‘I was educated in the Franco era,’ he said. ‘We could only speak Catalan at home; it was prohibited at school and in public media. There’s a whole generation that was not allowed to talk Catalan publicly.’ The remark was met with some fierce cricitism on social media: Franco died over 40 years ago … why did Puigdemont have to bring up Franco yet again? Oh, and why do the foreign media keep mentioning Franco? Why? Let me try to briefly explain …

I don’t pretend to speak for other foreign writers about Spain, but what I do know is that we don’t all wake up each day deliberately looking for something to write about Franco. We don’t need to look for it, either, because it is already there. But we don’t want to write about Franco or even have to mention the bastard. Let me clarify that: I think some writers do still want to expose more about the past and Franco, and rightly so – because much was covered up. But I don’t think we want to deliberately associate it or draw parallels with current events … but it’s hard not to, it really is. Franco is dead, yes. But Francoism is clearly still breathing in many circles, and it is not only disturbing but repulsive. Think of 1975 and Basil Fawlty. Think of ‘Brand Germany’ then … it was still being mocked on TV (although, as I say, the mockery was aimed at those who regarded all Germans as having something to do with ‘the war’.) Franco died in 1975. ‘Brand Spain’ then became great for many years (it was cool, I wrote here) – but today, today, Spain is being associated with Franco more than ever. Sort it out, Spain.