What is going on in Catalonia?

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
What is going on in Catalonia?

On 14 October, the Supreme Court of Spain ruled the sentence that has been orbiting the Spanish and Catalan politics and institutions since the Referendum for the Independency of Catalonia took place the 1st of October of 2017.

Many Catalan civil groups have expected this Supreme Court decision ever since the Catalan separatist leaders that guided the process, which culminated in the aforementioned Referendum, were preventively imprisoned from the 16th of October of 2017.

Oriol Junqueras, ex Vice president of Catalonia; Raúl Romeva, ex Minister of Foreign Affairs; Dolors Bassa, ex Minister of Social Welfare, Employment and Family and Jordi Turull, ex Minister of the Presidency, have been convicted of the crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds from 13 to 12 years of prison and temporary absolute disqualification.

Other Catalan separatist leaders convicted of the crime of sedition from 11 to 9 years of prison and temporary absolute disqualification have been Carme Forcadell, ex President of the Parliament of Catalonia; Josep Rull, ex Minister of Planning and Sustainability; Joaquim Forn, ex Minister of the Interior and the Presidents of two civil associations for the defence of the Independence of Catalonia (i.e. ANC and Òmnium Cultural) respectively, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart. In their turn, Santiago Vila, ex Minister of Culture; Meritxell Borràs, ex Minister of Governance and Carles Mundó, ex Minister of Justice, have been convicted of the crime of disobedience with the fine of 200€ per day during 10 months and temporary special disqualification.

In the sentence, the so-called proved facts, pivot around 4 specific dates and events: the 6th and 7th of September 2017, in which two laws to give legal background to the Referendum were passed by the Parliament of Catalonia; 20th of September of 2017, in which 40.000 demonstrators, in front of the Ministry of Vice presidency, Economy and Finance, prevented the police from registering the building in which it is located; the 1st of October of 2017, the date in which the referendum took place and the 10th and 27th of October, in which, due to the results of the Catalan referendum, the ex President of the Catalan Government (i.e. Carles Puigdemont) declared the independence of Catalonia.

The crimes convicted, namely, sedition; misuse of public funds and disobedience, have each their specific typology in the Spanish Criminal Code. The crime of sedition, which has only been imputed four different times in the history of the Spanish democracy and only condemned once for a prison riot, is included inside the crimes against the “public order”, defined in the sentence as the “legislative, executive or judicial legitimate will”.

For this crime to be applicable there needs to be a “public tumultuous revolt”, characterised as the display of an open hostility in an activity of insurrection against the orders given by a public institution or civil servant. The Supreme Court argues in the sentence that this revolt does not need to be successful, as in the case of Catalonia and it does not need to fulfil a specific set of scenarios to be applicable.

The actions taken by the ex Vice president, ex Ministers and ex Presidents of the two pro-independence organisations during the mobilisations oh the 20th of September are taken as an example of public tumultuous revolt, which continued during the peaceful forms of opposition shown by these separatist leaders towards the central government orders during the 1st of October.

The crime of sedition has the harshest consequences of the three in terms of prison time, it being from 8 to 15 years, depending on the degree of participation of the accused to this crime. On the other hand, the crime of disobedience does not entail prison as a consequence but a fine, which is quantified depending of different personal factors of the accused.

In their turn, both the crimes of misuse of public funds and disobedience are under section of crimes against the public administration in the Spanish Criminal Code. The former consists of a crime in which, following what is stated in the sentence, the four convicted leaders consciously and voluntarily used public funds to finance “the institutional advertising, organization of the Administration, preparation of the registry of Catalans abroad, electoral material, payment of international observers and computer applications” to make the Referendum for the Independency of Catalonia happen.

Finally, the crime of disobedience, for which the three ex Ministers have been convicted, is specific for civil servants and consists of an open opposition to the orders provided by the public administration.

What has been argued by several civil and political groups to be judicialisation of a political matter, has had a big impact on the mobilisations of the civil society, it being translated into different kind of demonstrations, with more, less or non-existing “violence” (i.e. it being so-called by the public administration and media in Spain).

The Tsunami Democràtic, “Democratic Tsunami”, an anonymous group of political activists, which has been argued to having been organised several months prior to the Supreme Court decision and is now is investigated for the crime of terrorism, is supposed to be behind the organisation of pacific demonstrations that have been happening since the past Monday, using a massive Telegram channel to spread the civil actions.

Following the sentence, a mass demonstration took place in the closest airport to Barcelona, el Prat, which turned into the cancellation of 108 flights. Further, the overnight demonstrators paralysed around 60 flights the following day. Another demonstration in the centre of Barcelona did also take place: it started during the afternoon and continued almost until midnight.

The demonstrations continued around Barcelona but also other big –and not so big- cities in Catalonia, with thousands of people protesting against the Supreme Court decision. They culminated on 18 October, the day of the mass strike, in which thousands of people from different regions of Catalonia arrived to Barcelona by foot and started the protest, which lasted for the entire day up until past midnight.

In parallel and probably with bigger media transcendence, during these 5-day protests, some episodes of violence have marked all the peaceful demonstrations narrated: we have all probably seen the trashcans on fire and the barricades taking place in the centre of Barcelona. These so-called violent groups have been proved not to be directly linked to any civil association and their actions not been officially organised by Tsunami Democràtic.

The police actions, qualified by some local and international human right defence associations such as International Amnesty as “excessively violent”, have resulted into almost 200 arrested demonstrators; 58 journalist attacked and 3 people that have lost their eye to the impact of the shooting of some rubber balls, the latter being forbidden in Catalonia since 2014.

On Saturday 19th of October the President of the Catalan Government, Quim Torra, has asked again to the President in functions of the Central Government to open political negotiations to solve the existing conflict in Catalonia, not having been successful yet.

Gemma Segués-Majós

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