Non-violent people whose belief in democracy is unshakable I HAVE WITNESSED THE SUFFERING AT FIRST HAND
The situation has become as untenable as it is unjust THINGS WILL GO FROM BAD TO WORSE TO ATROCIOUS
I hope all is (very) well with you.
At the Brexit debate we attended in Palma in 2016, I recall that you were the very opposite of stuffy; so I hope – fingers crossed – that you won’t object to this open letter to you, which will appear in the December edition of Catalonia Today magazine. It concerns – no surprises here – the Catalan Situation.
As you know, six former Catalan ministers, two civil and cultural activists and a former Speaker of the Catalan parliament – non-violent people whose belief in democracy is unshakable (as I know well enough from having spoken to many of them personally) – have now been sentenced to longer terms of imprisonment than most rapists and not a few murderers (I could cite specific cases); on top of which, eight Catalan politicians, activists, and musicians have fled into exile in the not unreasonable belief that they would receive an unfair trial in Spain (and also that they can do more good for the cause of Catalan independence there than they can here); and on top of that, in recent weeks 199 people protesting against the sentencing have been arrested and 600 injured (by police or right-wing thugs) on the streets of Catalonia.
The sentencing of the ministers, activists and the Speaker of the Parliament has also been condemned as unacceptable by quite a few – but not enough – politicians, intellectuals, artists and writers around the world. Specifically in the UK, those who have spoken out include Scotland’s First Minister, the Shadow Foreign Secretary and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia.
But the most recent – and most damning – international criticism has come from Amnesty International, whose detailed report released in November states that the “definition and interpretation” of the crime of sedition by Spain’s Supreme Court, “runs contrary to…human rights”.
As regards the two imprisoned civic leaders, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, Amnesty affirms, even more bluntly: “they must be released immediately and their convictions quashed”.
I have witnessed some of the suffering experienced by the families of those in jail at first hand. When Jordi Cuixart was held in a Madrid penitentiary for nearly half a year, his wife, Txell Bonet, and their baby son had to travel hundreds of kilometres each week to see him behind a glass screen for 40 minutes. (Mr Cuixart, now in a Catalan penitentiary, is in the odd position of being guarded by wardens several of whom are members of the large cultural association over which he presides). Most of the other prisoners also have young children, who will be adults when their mothers and fathers are finally released from jail.
As for those in exile, their situation is, by any accounts, exceptional. They can move freely around most of the EU, with the almost unique exception of the one country of which they are passport holders. Two of them have been elected to the European Parliament (as has the imprisoned former vice president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras) with a total of over two million votes, yet Spain is putting on all the diplomatic pressure it can muster, so as to prevent all three of them from taking their seats.
As for the recently arrested people in Catalonia, nine were detained on charges of terrorism, but the Terrorism Act was, strangely, not applied to them. Of the remaining seven, two were interrogated for long periods of time without their lawyers being present and confessed to we know not what (they remain in jail). Four have had their appeals for release accepted by the National Court, but are still being held in custody. (The remaining prisoner’s case is under review). The uncle of Jordi Ros – one of the two people interrogated – has said in an interview that his nephew was transported blindfolded, that guns were pointed at his head, that he was put in solitary confinement and deprived of sleep, and that his septuagenarian parents were also threatened with arrest. (No terrorist attacks have taken place, no explosives have been found, and no potential targets have been detected).
As for the demonstrations of the last few weeks, there have been countless documented examples of protocol-exempt police brutality (beatings to the head and chest, rubber bullets fired at face level, etc.); there have also been reliable reports of sexual harassment inside police vehicles.
All of this – and all that is still to come – has happened because, according to many observers, Madrid has been unable to deal with Catalonia using political means, or indeed even to conceive of doing so. This does not mean that Spain is – to use a phrase bandied about to excess – a ’fascist state’, but rather a majoritarianist one, meaning – in this case – that the majority of people in Spain who fully accept their designated nationality and the pre-eminent status of the Spanish language are, in judicial and political terms, as free as the citizens of any EU country you care to name. The minority who do not – and their political representatives – can have, and have had, their civil rights whipped away on the spot: from the point of view of the Spanish majority – and its political representatives – they are simply not to be trusted. (Phrases such as ’traitors’ and ’coup plotters’ have been used freely by unionist politicians). All this within a context in which surveys taken from 2017 through to this year show consistently that between 76% and 82% of the Catalan population want a negotiated referendum. But I’m absolutely sure you know all this and more.
In a nutshell, the situation here has become as untenable as it is unjust. So I have taken it upon myself to ask you – implore you, if I have to be honest – to clarify this to those in the Foreign Office, with a view to eventually obtaining some kind – any kind! – of official British condemnation of what is happening here. (This is, of course, a simple matter of civil rights, not of whether one is for or against a Catalan Republic).
I am well aware that this is not your brief: that this is not a part, necessarily, of your job. I am also aware that writing to you publicly like this could be interpreted as impertinent, but I have no wish to be so: like millions of other people here, I am prepared to do absolutely anything – as long as it’s non-violent – if I think it might be at least a little helpful with regard to the absolution of the prisoners and the return of the exiles.
You are the official representative of the British government in Catalonia, and if it and other governments turn a blind eye to what the Spanish one is doing here, things will eventually go from bad to worse to atrocious. About that I have no doubt whatsoever.
Anything that is within your power to help us would be (much) more than welcome.
Here’s wishing you, sincerely, a very happy Christmas.