The trials against the political and governmental leaders of the 1st october Referendum have already begun. These are the result of the General Cause that the Spanish State and its judicial power initiated the month of November.
This is a political trial against the right of self-determination of the Catalan people. All the evidences – political, judicial and historical – allows us to conclude that this trial will end up with sentences that will entail jail time and disqualifications from public office for the people involved.
The political objective of the Spanish State is precisely to punish, in an exemplary way, the political and governmental leaders of the self-determination Referendum so that no one else dares to try again a political path that could put in question the territorial unity of the State Spanish. Also, to prevent by any means the popular empowerment that entails a threat to their powers – political, judicial, economic and media – which guarantee the territorial unity of this state and their privileges.
What is at stake with this trial, therefore, is not only the freedom and the political and civil rights of the people who will be judged in the various judicial processes that fall within this General Cause (the Supreme Court, the National hearing and the High Court of Justice of Catalonia), but also the possibility that the Catalan people – or any other people of Spain – may never exercise their legitimate right to self-determination.
What is being judged?
In summary, the political process of exercising the right to self-determination in Catalonia in recent years is being judged. The inditement papers begin by talking about the government’s agreement between the main pro-independence political forces ERC and CiU (2012), all the resolutions adopted by the Parliament of Catalonia seeking a bilateral solution to the exercising of self-determination, the consultation of 9th November 2014, and later focuses on the preparation and execution of the referendum of self-determination on 1st October 2017.
The content of the accusation is based on the massive and repeated demonstrations of thousands of people and the political activity of the Catalan institutions during these years (discourses that have been realised, laws processed, Parlamentary commissions, institutional statements and even speeches by pro-independence leaders).
The State’s argument is that independentism (through three actors: the Parliament of Catalonia, the Catalan Government and mobilised civil society) sought to impose independence by the force of a popular movement, up to and including the use of violence, even though there has never been the existence, proclamation or incitement of acts of violence.
The trial’s protagonists: who is who
The state prosecutors are a body who has legal protection enshrined – but paradoxically it does not object to investigating the police violence deployed on the 1st October 2017, also the state’s lawyers acting as the legal office of the central government and to protect public resources, and, finally, the populist private prosecution undertaken by VOX.
All of the Catalan government was accused in the autumn of 2017, the presidents of the civil society groups ANC and Omnium Cultural, and the main parliamentary actors (the members who supported the debate on self-determination; the main actors in Parliament and the speakers for Junts Pel Sí and the CUP). In total effecting 25 people.
The Court that will hold the trial is the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in Spanish criminal law, located in Madrid, the members of which are chosen by a governing body of judges with a majority of them from the Partido Popular (Spanish Conservative party) for years. This has made the Supreme Court become ultra-conservative and aligned with arguments from the Spanish right. During the process, the question of who will hold the trial has been discussed a lot as it is an unprecedented decision that alters the original accusations, which were from the High Court of Catalonia, located in Barcelona. The judges that will hold the trial do not know the Catalan language, which is official in Catalonia and the accused’s own mother tongue.
Role of the extreme right: VOX forcing the judicialization of politics
VOX is an ultra-right populist party that is opposed to immigration, feminism and independence who since the beginning of the political process, has repeatedly instituted criminal cases to bring about the judicialization of the political process. In this case VOX is the only private prosecution, an aspect that is quite unique to Spanish legislation that allows citizens to participate in criminal court proceedings without being linked to the positions of the official state prosecutor’s accusations and the representation of the injured party, in this case, State law.
VOX’s requests are always exorbitant and respond to a logic of authoritarian and pre-democracy. Unfortunately, when the public prosecutor has agreed to lower the stakes – in relation to provisional prison sentences – the Supreme Court aligned itself with VOX. In an accusatory system like the Spanish one, the role of VOX serves the court to listen to extremism regardless of whether it considers them.
Prison, exile and fiscal petitions: response to the orders and extradition requests from Germany, Belgium, UK and Switzerland
The supposed crimes being directed are crimes of rebellion, sedition, embezzlement of public resources and disobedience committed by a person in authority. These crimes are levelled against 25 people of which only 18 of them will be juged because they are in Spain. Some of them, the presidents of the ANC and Omnium Cultural are in temporary custody, five counsellors and the vice-president of the Catalan government and the president of the Parliament, totalling nine prisoners. The rest are in freedom.
In the exile there are four counsellors, the President of the Catalan government, the spokespersons for Junts pel Sí and the CUP, totalling seven people in exile.
The prosecution is levelling accusations of rebellion, misappropriation of public resources and disobedience, asking for sentences that go from fines accompanied by disqualification from holding public office to 25 years in prison. The state’s lawyers is levelling accusations of sedition, misappropriation of public resources and disobedience, asking for sentences that reach a maximum of 12 years. VOX are bringing accusations of two distinct rebellions and everything requested by the prosecution while also adding the crime of criminal organization, the maximum requested penalty is 74 years.
In relation to the people that find themselves in exile, they had initially been objected to requests for international detention. This affected those in the EU, opening proceedings in Scotland, Belgium and Germany. In none of these cases was agreed that preventative prison was necessary until hearing the final verdict. The only courtroom that entered deep into the case was the High Court of Schleswig-Holstein that denied the extradition of the president of the Catalan government in exile through the understanding that according to German legislation the facts presented in the trial did not constitute a crime in Germany. This led to the withdrawal of procedures in Scotland and Belgium.
In the case of Switzerland, the minister of justice stated that extradition requests were clear cases of political crimes and that therefore the authorities of the federation would not engage in the extradition of people that they found on their territory.
Currently there exists an arrest warrant for all of them in exile, that only lives on in Spanish territory, because the judges in the supreme court has renounced international judicial cooperation in this case.