They are not exceptions, they are the norm

The battle for Catalan independence cannot ignore the battle for our rights and liberties

This week we have seen the Spanish MoD’s official gazette [Boletín Oficial de Defensa, or BOD] publish the announcement that Guardia Civil officer Antonio Manuel Guerrero (1) is back on active duty, even though he received a nine-year prison sentence for having sexually assaulted an 18-year-old woman in 2016. Guerrero is a rapist who bragged about his misdeeds online. Spain’s Guardia Civil is “a law-enforcement corps of a military nature” and its website claims that its main mission is “to ensure that people are kept safe from crimes that might threaten them” and, also, “to care for and assist the general public”. Enough said.

Also this week, Catalan photojournalist Jordi Borràs was physically assaulted in the street by an off-duty Spanish police officer who literally punched his face in as he cheered General Franco. Jordi Borràs is a well-known investigative journalist who knows a great deal about Spanish far-right groups in Catalonia and has denounced their activities, violent attacks and their all-too-frequent respectable fronts, such as Societat Civil Catalana and Ciudadanos. Borràs had received no end of face-to-face and online threats before the assault. The culprit is being probed by the Spanish police’s internal affairs division, but he has not been suspended. In the words of the Spanish police’s mission statement, posted on their website, “the mission of this civilian law enforcement agency is to uphold the free exercise of the people’s rights and freedoms, as well as to protect them”. Enough said, too.

This week we have also learnt that a Barcelona a court of law has dismissed fifty-one individual complaints about police violence on October 1 last year, the day of the referendum on independence. Despite footage that amply documents the police assaulting peaceful voters outside six Barcelona city polling stations and despite the medical certificates that confirm the victims’ injuries, a judge has ruled that the Spanish police acted in a proportionate manner and, whenever some indication of misconduct was found, the officers involved could not be identified. It is unclear what exactly the judge did to try to put names to the officers who acted violently, but the law enforcement agencies involved were opaque and far from cooperative. Irídia, a Catalan human rights group (2), has reported that the public prosecutor’s office, the Spanish police and the ministry of the interior have all failed to adequately investigate the incidents and have prevented the officers in question from being identified. There is a perverse logic in the fact that, when the alleged crimes are committed by Spanish police, the burden of proof is on the victims.

Lastly, this week it has been nine months since the first Catalan leaders were jailed for political reasons. Justice Lamela had Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez arrested on October 16 last year. So far Oriol Junqueras and Quim Forn have spent 258 days in jail; 149, in the case of Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Raül Romeva and Dolors Bassa. Carme Forcadell has been held on remand for 118 days. They are all in pre-trial custody following charges which Belgium and Germany’s justice have refuted. There is plenty of evidence and eyewitness accounts that disprove, beyond any doubt, the fantasy construed by the Guardia Civil reports, the public prosecutor and the examining magistrate’s statements.

I will not mention further cases that would multiply the word count of this article tenfold, but by now it has been well established that the institutions whose job it should be to uphold and safeguard the rights and liberties of the people in Spain (the Supreme Court, the police force and the Guardia Civil) are actually the main culprits behind their violation and neglect. Thus we are faced with the sort of anomaly that you tend to get in dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, one that is wholly alien to democracies where the rule of law is upheld. As a result, the people are rendered defenceless as they watch, in shock, the arbitrariness of the judiciary and even the impunity with which law enforcement now engages in the sort of indiscriminate violence for which they lack all legitimacy. The examples I mentioned above are not exceptions, they are the norm.

That is why it is so odd that some should not be aware yet of the gravity of the situation and, speaking from profoundly democratic convictions, they are not rallying openly and in the strongest terms against the repressive rage of a State that has lost its grip on the force which it is supposed to administer legitimately. When the force which the State is supposed to administer for the sake of the people’s safety is used indiscriminately to suppress political dissent, or when so-called law-enforcement officers beat up a journalist or they commit a sex crime and are protected by the State’s apparatus, that force is merely violence. You can call it impunity or simply a free-for-all. It is unthinkable that any democrats could possibly choose to pass on this battle. For the sake of decency and dignity.

Therefore, it is equally odd that —amidst the battle over the recognition of the declared independence and the Republic proclaimed by the Catalan Parliament on October 27, which hasn’t been revoked— some should argue that the fight for our rights, our freedom and against repression can be excised from the other struggle (and that pursuing it might even be counterproductive). Standing up for our rights and liberties, as well as opposing the judicial and police crackdown, is a basic principle of republicanism. They are not two different causes but one. What’s more, it is advisable —and Catalonia’s most enlightened, committed minds are working on it— that the struggle for our rights and liberties and against repression can spread to a larger segment of the population, beyond the boundaries of those who support independence and the Catalan Republic per se. Indeed, the battle for independence and the Republic cannot ignore the battle for our rights and liberties. Not at all. Because tomorrow it could be you. Whether you realise this already or not.


Translator’s notes:

(1) Mr Guerrero is a Guardia Civil officer and a member of the notorious “wolf pack” who were recently found guilty in a sexual abuse case that has stirred much controversy in Spain due to the leniency of the sentence.

(2) Irídia (Centre per a la Defensa dels Drets Humans) is an association that works for the defence of human rights in Catalonia, specifically focused on civil and political rights.