On Friday the Attorney General of Madrid’s Audiencia Nacional (1) pressed charges against protestors who had rallied in support of Catalonia’s institutions on September 20 and 21, following a vast police operation to strike down the vote on independence slated for October 1. Furthermore, the prosecutor is asking that Òmnium president Jordi Cuixart and the leader of the Catalan National Assembly (2), Jordi Sànchez, be prosecuted for having instigated the protest. In Spain seditious conspiracy charges carry a penalty up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
The prosecutor’s instruction released on Friday requests that “the protests and demonstrations that forcefully sought to prevent the authorities and law enforcement officers from carrying out their duty to uphold the Constitution” face charges of sedition.
The prosecutor’s report indicates that the organisers of the protests against the Spanish police raids on Catalonia’s Finance Ministry HQ are Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez. In fact, the AG’s own account of the events acknowledges several times that it is impossible to pinpoint the individual people who burst the tyres of several Guardia Civil vehicles parked outside the ministry, or those who chanted “You’re staying here tonigh!” while Barcelona’s carrer Diputació was being cut off. Therefore, the only individuals whose names are mentioned in the report are the leaders of the two pro-independence platforms.
Specifically, the prosecutor’s report describes how, after midnight, Cuixart and Sànchez climbed on top of a Guardia Civil vehicle and asked protestors to continue demonstrating. The report also claims that both groups had “planned” the protests because they had volunteers handing out water and other drinks.
What does the AG regard as sedition?
The prosecution argues that, during the protests against the vast police raids where several Catalan institutions were searched, there were a number of incidents which it characterises as sedition, a crime described in article 544 of Spain’s Criminal Code as an action by individuals “who rebel and riot publicly to prevent the law from being upheld, by force or other unlawful means, or to prevent an authority, official body or civil servant from carrying out their duties”.
On this point, the prosecutor indicates that “the events of September 20 and 21” clearly intended to prevent law enforcement officers from carrying out their duty. Furthermore, the AG argues that the protestor’s ultimate goal “was to hold the referendum to proclaim an independent Catalan Republic and they were aware” that this was a breach of the law and infringed upon the Spanish Constitution. The prosecutor provides a chronological account of the various rallies staged throughout September 20, focusing on episodes of “great tension” or instances when police work was interfered with. Besides the tires of Guardia Civil vehicles being burst, the reports also mentions a number of occasions when demonstrators cut off roads and ANC volunteers in green vests formed a corridor outside the main entrance of the Finance Ministry. On this point, the AG stresses that protestors shouted at Catalan police “You’re not worthy of the flag on your uniform!” (3) and how they “threatened” the Guardia Civil officers by chanting “You’re not getting out!”. The report goes on to describe protests outside the headquarters of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) (4), where some members were allegedly “assaulted”.
A narrative to turn demonstrations into riots
At a media event held on Friday afternoon, Catalonia’s Home Secretary Joaquim Forn warned that Madrid “is weaving a narrative whereby peaceful, civic-minded demonstrations are presented as violent riots, with a view to giving the impression that a violent uprising is underway so that it may be characterised as a crime of sedition”. Only minutes later, the report by the Attorney General was announced, which claims precisely that.
(1) Spain’s Audiencia Nacional is a special court of law which only sees major criminal cases.
(2) Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly are the two main Catalan grassroots platforms that support independence.
(3) Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra were on the scene to prevent any incidents outside the ministry while the Guardia Civil searched the premises.
(4) The PSC staunchly opposes Catalan independence.