A farcical trial

Spain has a long history of human rights violations

The transfer of the nine Catalan political prisoners to Madrid is but a few hours away, and the trial at the Supreme Court against some of the pro-independence leaders is imminent. Meanwhile, many people are justifiably suspicious that rather than facing an act of justice which meets international standards, we find ourselves facing an exercise in political persecution which is intended to destroy the pro-independence movement’s capacity to express its political disagreement with respect to the Spanish state in its current form.

According to Raül Romeva, in his book 'Esperança i llibertat' [Hope and Freedom] (Ara Llibres, 2018), "The trial has nothing to do with justice". He outlines the following reasons: "Extrajudicial investigations, separate proceedings, parallel trials under different jurisdictions, all as a means of generating the utmost inequality between the prosecution and the defence, and to ensure we are in a permanent state of defencelessness. It is a fabricated narrative, a copybook political trial aimed at rewriting history by means of the courts". "We are not facing a fair trial," Romeva added. Instead, it is an act of "revenge".

Some may believe that to doubt the equanimity and impartiality of the Supreme Court, the highest legal authority in Spain, is exaggerated. However, this is not the case, since in the lead up to the trial it has repeatedly adopted the political position held by the Spanish government (first, at the hands of the PP and now the PSOE), even at the expense of the violation of fundamental rights which, paradoxically, it is charged with protecting. In fact, lawyers and renowned jurists from Spanish universities, together with certain international organizations whose mission is to monitor the respect for human rights, have already highlighted these violations of fundamental rights, even before the trial has begun. There is a long list of infractions, which is frankly unbecoming of an EU member state.

Moreover, Spain has already accumulated a long history of human rights violations, if we consider the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Last year, for example, the ECHR criticised Spain for infringing on the freedom of expression of the youths responsible for burning photos of the king in a town square in Girona in 2007: Spain was found to have violated their fundamental right to the freedom of expression. The ECHR also ruled against Spain in 2018 for having violated Arnaldo Otegi’s [a Basque politician] right to a fair trial: the court ruled that Spain had violated his right to a fair trial since the judges had failed to act impartially. It is worth reminding ourselves that the court issued a guilty verdict and Otegi was sent to jail.

The previous year, in 2017, the same court, the protector of human rights in Europe, found Spain guilty of having violated Juan María Atutxa’s right to a fair trial: a trial, remember, which ended with the then President of the Basque Parliament being barred from holding public office. In 2012, the ECHR ruled against Spain for failing to investigate accusations of torture by the then director of the Basque newspaper Egunkaria, Martxelo Otamendi: the ECHR ruled that Spain had violated Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment. And in 2011, the ECHR ruled against Spain for having infringed on Arnaldo Otegi’s right to the freedom of expression. He was also sentenced to a year in prison by a Spanish court of law.

And, if we go back even further, in 2004 the ECHR ruled against Spain for violating the right to "not be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment" by failing to investigate allegations of torture by 15 Catalan pro-independence activists in 1992, who were arrested, tried and found guilty in the mass trial against the independence movement orchestrated by former judge Baltasar Garzón.

Clearly the Spanish state is totally untrustworthy in terms of the respect for human rights and judicial impartiality. Its record of being found guilty of serious human rights violations, the very rights it is charged with protecting, is akin to a voracious fox about to enter the chicken coop where fresh victims are ready for the slaughter. As a result, it is by no means surprising, given Spain’s record on the matter, that international organizations which defend and protect human rights have expressed their desire to exercise their legitimate function as observers of the trial for as long as it lasts. And it should come as no surprise that Spain’s Attorney General has refused the observers the right to attend: she knows, better than anyone, that the violations of rights will not only occur, they have occurred already.

For this reason, I was pleased to read in the essay in defence of Jordi Cuixart (page 92) that neither he nor Òmnium "will stop exercising and protecting human rights" and that, "he is firmly committed to social cohesion, a broad consensus, to social, civil and political rights, even above any laws which seek to restrict them. And that he does so with a willingness, if necessary, to peacefully disobey such laws in order to change them".

Both here and in China, disobeying an unfair law is an act of legitimate justice. And what is an unfair law? Apart from other considerations, both here and in China, an unfair law is a law which restricts or violates fundamental rights and freedoms. Disobeying a law is not a choice: it is an ethical imperative.

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