The Spanish state has clearly not learned any lessons, and as I feared the support it has received from the EU and the international community has only emboldened it in its harsh and hardline stance against any negotiations with supporters of Catalan indepedence. In a major escalation today (Thursday), the Spanish High Court has decided to imprison Oriol Junqueras who is the Catalan Vice-President, and half of the Catalan government. Also imprisoned are Raül Romeva the secretary for External and Institutional Relations, Dolors Bassa i Coll the Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Families, Joaquim Forn the Minister of the Interior, Josep Rull the Secretary for Territory and Sustainability, Jordi Turull the Secretary to the Presidency, Meritxell Borràs the Secretary for Local Government and Public Administration, and Carles Mundó the Justice Secretary. The Secretary for Business and Education, Santi Vila i Vicente was freed on bail of 50,000 €. Vila i Vicente was treated more leniently as he resigned from his post shortly before the Catalan declaration of independence.
The Spanish High Court has acceded to the demands of the Attorney General to send the members of the Catalan government to prison pending investigation of the charges against them. The current Attorney General is the arch-conservative José Manuel Maza, who previously upheld the disqualification of the campaigning Judge Baltasar Garzón, after Garzón had sought to open an investigation in crimes committed by the Spanish government during the Franco era.
Another six members of the Catalan government, including the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament Carmé Forcadell, possess parliamentary immunity and the charges against them can only be heard by the Spanish Supreme Court. This hearing has been scheduled for November 9. In the meantime the Supreme Court has agreed to a request from the Attorney General that the six be put under police surveillance. The Court has ordered them to present details of their home address and telephone numbers to the national police, who have been authorised to keep them under close surveillance.
The charges laid against the Catalan ministers by the Spanish state are rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds. The accused are facing possible prison sentences of up to 30 years. The wheels of Spanish justice turn very slowly, and the decision to imprison the Catalan government means that the politicians are potentially facing years in jail before the courts finally hear any case made against them. The decision also prevents them from participating in the snap elections called in Catalonia by the Spanish government. The election is due to be held on 21 December.
Meanwhile, the public prosecutor of the Spanish High Court demanded that an international arrest warrant be issued for Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and four members of his cabinet, who are beyond the reach of the Spanish authorities in Brussels. In Brussels with Puigdemont are Clara Ponsatí the Secretary of Education, Lluís Puig the Minister of Culture, Toni Comín the Health Secretary, and Meritxell Serret the Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food.
Puigdemont had previously stated that he was not seeking asylum in Belgium and would be prepared to return to Spain in return for guarantees of dialogue and discussion. The decision of the High Court to imprison half of his government is the clearest signal possible that the Spanish government has precisely zero interest in any negotiations. Judge Carmen Lamela of the High Court acceded to the demand, and an international arrest warrant has been sent to the Belgian authorities for the five Catalan government members currently in Brussels.
Spain is sending the clearest signal possible to the Catalan independence movement that dialogue and negotiation are not on the table. Spain doesn’t want compromise, it wants victory. Mariano Rajoy’s hardline stance has so far only succeeded in alienating many ‘soft noes’ amongst the Catalan population, where numerous opinion polls have shown a huge majority in favour of holding a referendum. The most recent poll, taken earlier this week, shows that support for independence has now risen to 48.7%, a rise of 7.6%, while support for remaining a part of Spain is now at 43.6%, a decline of 5.8%. When don’t knows are excluded, that produces a pro-independence majority of 53%. The actions of the Spanish courts today will only serve to increase pro-independence sentiment, as many in Catalonia reflect upon a Spanish government which is refusing to permit a referendum and which is criminalising those who have democratically and peacefully expressed an alternative view.
The eight government ministers who were sent to prison today will join the two prominent pro-independence campaigners, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, who were imprisoned on 17 October. Spain, a modern European democracy, a pillar of the EU, now has ten people who are in jail for the supposed crime of allowing the Catalans to vote on their future. The Catalan independence movement has reacted with understandable outrage. If, as seems quite probable, the Catalans elect another pro-independence majority government in the elections due in December, will Madrid imprison them as well? Many are asking themselves what is the point of voting if the mandate of those you elect is ignored, traduced, and they are imprisoned for trying to put it into effect.
You can’t solve a political problem by criminalising those you disagree with. The actions of Mariano Rajoy’s government might deal harshly with this current crop of pro-independence politicians, but he will only succeed in producing another generation of pro-independence campaigners who have as little interest in negotiation and compromise as Rajoy does. That would be a tragedy for Catalonia, and a tragedy for Spain. What happened today has only made Catalan independence more likely, not less likely.
Marta Rovira, the Secretary General of the Equerra Republicana Catalana, the party to which Oriol Junqueras belongs, warned today that a “state which persecutes independence supporters for their ideas … in the future could imprison anyone who wants to change society.” Meanwhile Antoni Castellà of Junts pel Sí warned that Catalonia was now facing a battle between good and evil under a “tyrannical Spanish government”, and called for independence supporters to mobilise on the streets. He added, “They didn’t crush us with francoism, what makes them think that they can crush us now?”
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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