Eric is a 42 year-old American citizen. He has been living in Catalonia for fourteen years, speaks excellent Catalan and is married to a Catalan woman named Elna. They have a young daughter. Eric works for an American company in the tourism industry. He lives in El Masnou and is a member of Teià’s local “giants” club. On the day of the general strike in Catalonia, Eric was arrested by Spanish police when he demanded to have his pro-independence “estelada” flag returned to him after the officers found it in his pocket and seized it. For this reason he stands accused of terrorism, jihadism and human trafficking, and is also facing deportation. In addition, they are pressing criminal charges against him and he will be prosecuted for public disorder. The police claim he was in possession of two large metal nuts which he was carrying wrapped up in his flag. Eric categorically denies it. He and his wife believe it is an attempt to intimidate foreign residents, to scare them and discourage them from supporting Catalonia’s independence cause. But they are not willing to keep quiet and this is their story.

On Friday October 18, the day of the general strike in Catalonia, Eric attended the Barcelona demonstration with a group of friends. They were on Passeig de Gràcia and at the end of the march they went down to Via Laietana to see what was going on. It was crowded and he and the rest of the group got separated. He went into Hotel Montblanc looking for a safe place and there he served as a go between with the hotel’s manager and helped young people and others who were looking for shelter in the hotel because they were afraid of the Spanish police and the rubber bullets they were firing outside. Eric rang his wife from the hotel to tell her that he would try to find a way to get back to his car and drive home.

“I was leaving Hotel Montblanc at 20.15” —he recalls— “when the police stopped me. They frisked me and seized the “estelada” flag I was carrying in my pocket. I had folded it up and put it away because I was going home. I told them I opposed violence and violent people, but they rebuked me and said: ‘As an American, what are you doing, carrying this flag? What would you do, if Texas attempted to break away? You’d better be on your way before things get any worse’. I asked them to return my flag and why they were keeping it. I told them that it was like stealing and it was wrong. Then they pushed me and I instinctively grabbed one of the officers by the arm, and we both fell to the ground. They restrained me and got me down on my knees. I was handcuffed and taken to the Spanish police station on Via Laietana. I was under arrest”.

I didn’t get beaten up because I’m an American

Eric’s story goes on: “When we got to the precinct I saw two girls there. One was in tears. They split them up. Later on they brought in more people who had been arrested. One of them had blood all over his head, but they still threw him against the floor while in handcuffs. They gave him a good kicking. They also brought in a photojournalist who was treated very roughly. Everyone was hurt badly, they were pushed against the wall and had boots pressed against their ankles … I saw some horrible stuff. Hatred was palpable among the officers. One came up to me and whispered in my ear: ‘All this over a flag. Was it worth it?’ I didn’t reply. They didn’t hurt me. I believe I didn’t get beaten up because I’m an American.”

“By midnight they’d made enough arrests. There were about ten of us and we were driven to the police station on Rambla de Guipúscoa. I was put in a cell by myself. Then I got a bad migraine. I suffer from migraines and whenever I get one, I feel like I’ve been battered. They didn’t allow me to call my wife until half past four in the morning. We spoke for a couple of minutes. I didn’t see my lawyer, Solange Hilbert, until half past one in the afternoon. She works for Iacta, a cooperative law firm. Outside, my wife was doing everything she could. I was taken to Ciutat de la Justícia between six and seven in the afternoon and gave a statement in court. That’s when I found out that the police claimed I was carrying two large nuts wrapped in the flag. But I oppose violence and violent people! The story of the nuts is totally made-up! I’ve been charged with public disorder and they want to deport me. They’ve kept my mobile phone. I’m not allowed to go anywhere near a political march and I am expected to turn up in court every two weeks until the date of the trial”.

Meanwhile, Eric’s wife Elna reported him as a missing person to the Catalan police after she hadn’t heard from him for six hours. When Eric rang her at half past four in the morning, she took their daughter and rushed to the police precinct on Rambla de Guipúscoa. Elna explains that “when Eric gets a migraine, he is unable to speak or hear, he is physically sick … It’s really awful. I rushed to get him his pills. When I got to the police station, they wouldn’t let me see him and refused to give him his medication. They wouldn’t even tell me what he was being charged with. Later I found out that, besides public disorder, he also stands accused of terrorism, jihadism and human trafficking, which are the only charges that can justify his expulsion from the country. I rang the US embassy in Madrid and later the Barcelona consulate got in touch. They were good and have taken some steps. Our lawyer says the charges hold no water, but neither did the indictments against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart and they’ve ended up in jail. Eric might be barred from entering the country for five years, just for asking to have his flag back”.

Elna adds that “now we have fifteen days to enter a plea. The “giants” club, the parents’ association at school, the council of Masnou, our church … They’ve all written letters explaining that Eric is a family man, a member of the local community. I cannot believe what’s happened to him. Eric has witnessed uncalled for violence and humiliation. They want to frighten us. But we are not afraid and we want people to know what’s happened to us because it is the only way to prevent it from happening again. We can’t keep quiet about it and we don’t want to.

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