The images of baton-wielding Spanish police brutally charging peaceful voters gathered outside polling stations on 1 October 2017 made the news headlines across the world. The pictures made an indelible impression on millions of people in Catalonia and abroad. Spain’s reputation was badly tainted. So, how do they intend to remedy this reputational damage? In October 2018 the Spanish government’s Foreign Affairs ministry felt the need to appoint Irene Lozano new deputy minister for España Global [Global Spain].
Lozano’s job is to expose what she refers to as “Catalan separatism’s fake news”. However, the violent images of 1 October are not going to go away, no matter how much they spend on reports and trips abroad. Feeling the need to keep explaining your own actions and decisions is a sure sign that you realise they aren’t getting your message across and, therefore, you have a need to weave a narrative that justifies them.
For years many Catalans have felt that the Spanish state has been trying to smear us and strangle our economy to gain leverage on our government and, undoubtedly, to instil fear and insecurity in the Catalan people. Quite clearly, the result is far from what they intended: support for independence has grown even in areas where voters traditionally backed unionist parties.
Despite their efforts, with newly-created departments such as Global Spain, despite Irene Lozano’s endeavour to spread her own particular version of the events, Catalonia’s civil society is fortunately holding a steady course. The harder the clampdown, the greater the wish to rally!
Spain’s constant smear efforts —coupled with minister Josep Borrell’s tireless campaign abroad— are actually a massive help for the pro-independence movement to become increasingly more broad-based and attractive to people of many different social backgrounds, people who have come to the conclusion that working for an independent Catalan republic is the only way to build a fairer society.
Evidence of this is the fact that, once direct rule was lifted, pro-independence parties won a parliamentary majority in the ensuing Catalan elections and that, for the first time ever, those same parties have won the most seats in a Spanish election. They cannot keep ignoring these facts.
But let us focus on the 70-page report written by Global Spain to discredit Catalonia’s independence efforts, a document that Spain’s foreign ministry has been handing out to journalists abroad, foreign correspondents and other international actors. It needs to be emphasised that the report repeatedly violates the Catalan prisoners’ presumed innocence and puts forward arguments that are aligned with the prosecution’s reports. The report goes as far as to suggest that Germany’s justice erred when they denied Carles Puigdemont’s extradition on a rebellion charge.
It is extremely serious for a country to publish and distribute such a dossier. More so when the report suggests that several people who have not been convicted of any crimes are in fact guilty. This constitutes a flagrant violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which stipulates that defendants are entitled to an independent and impartial tribunal; in other words, to a fair trial.
I am afraid it gets worse: even though they are aware that the Council of Europe does not allow it, the report includes statements by public officials about the judicial proceedings currently in progress which suggest to the reader that the defendants are, in fact, guilty as charged. I could mention further examples that show how the report as a whole is actually a media campaign aimed at persuading its readers that Catalonia’s political prisoners are guilty. It is a blatant violation of the presumption of innocence. Considering these precedents, I am not surprised that a German prosecutor has agreed to examine a complaint against minister Borrell for espionage and that Catalonia’s independence movement is being criminalised just weeks before the verdict is announced in Madrid’s Supreme Court.
This is a summary of the key points I made earlier this week before the Spanish parliament’s permanent council in Madrid. Having a chance to have a few stern words with our jailers is not only therapeutic: it’s also a good opportunity to let them know that we won’t be overcome by fear, regardless of their threats.