How is Spain ‘informing’ the international press about the Catalan referendum trial?

  • VilaWeb has obtained documents which Spanish ambassadors have sent to top international media to give their version of the trial against Catalonia’s independence process

11.02.2019 - 10:18
Actualització: 11.02.2019 - 11:18

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell has entrusted his ambassadors with
sending a file to numerous international media outlets in an attempt to misinform
the press about the trial against the independence process. This attempt to
influence media is the latest episode in an international publicity campaign to clean
up Spain’s image abroad. It comes after the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision not to allow international observers to attend the trial and the Global Spain propaganda

The ministerial file consists of three documents in English, to which VilaWeb has
had access. The first is a guide to the trial written by the General Council of the
Judiciary (GCJ). The second is an article (which VilaWeb has published) written by
Enrique Gimbernat, a professor of criminal law and a member of Spanish daily El
Mundo’s editorial board, who takes a one-sided view in support of the charges of
rebellion and sedition. The third is a document containing general information in
support of the Supreme Court’s decision not to allow international observers to
attend the trial.

These documents fail to mention that Vox’s lawyers will be in court as a joint
prosecutor, at a time when the rapid growth of this far-right party in Spain has been
widely reported in the international press. They also confirm that two judges from
the GCJ will brief foreign correspondents covering the trial in Madrid. Finally, the
document also confirms that the trial will start on 12 February, even though it was
sent before the Supreme Court announced that it had rejected the defence’s most
recent appeals for the trial to be postponed.

Vox’s presence at the Supreme Court kept hidden

The GCJ guide to the trial contains a range of information, such as a brief profile of
the seven judges who will preside over the court; the sentences called for by the
prosecutor’s office, the Solicitor General and the private prosecution against the
twelve pro-independence defendants; the names of defence lawyers; and the
articles of the Spanish criminal code relating to the charges of rebellion, sedition, embezzlement, disobedience and belonging to a criminal organization. It also
outlines the various phases of the trial.

Nevertheless, the most surprising fact is that it hides the presence of Vox in the trial
for having brought a private prosecution. The document states that the private
prosecution will be represented by the lawyers Francisco Javier Ortega Smith-
Molina and Pedro Fernández Hernández, while failing to mention that they
represent Vox.

The presence of the far-right party in the Andalusian parliament and the extent to which they are expected to grow according to opinion polls, together with their reactionary policies, have made the news in numerous international media outlets. This doubtlessly led the GCJ to decide not to mention Vox in the documents.

El Mundo’s biased reporting

The Spanish government has translated into English an article by Enrique
Gimbernat, a professor of criminal law and a member of El Mundo’s editorial board,
as a recommended document. In the article, entitled On the Crimes of Rebellion
and Sedition, Gimbernat justifies the charges for these crimes brought against the
Catalan political prisoners. It is a one-sided, biased article, which also sets out to
discredit the petitions signed by lecturers and professors of criminal law against the
defendants’ pre-trial detention and the criminal charges.

When referring to the defendants and their actions, Gimbernat speaks of a ‘“plot to
stage a coup” and the use of “violence”. He also states that the sentences ought to
make an example of them and they must not be pardoned, since that would “send
the message that they got off with committing rebellion scot-free, and before you
know it in the future there would be a coup in Catalonia every other year”.
Gimbernat also devotes several lines to slandering the independence movement.
Although it has always been a peaceful and civic movement, he describes it as
being on the far-right, xenophobic and lacking in solidarity with the rest of Spain.

Gimbernat also criticizes the Spanish government for failing to apply article 155 of
the constitution sooner [direct rule]. According to Gimbernat, only three of the
state’s institutions did “what they were supposed to do” during the Catalan crisis:
the Supreme Court’s criminal chamber, the Spanish Attorney General and the

Gimbernat has spoken out strongly on the trial against Catalonia’s
independence bid. In the article sent to international media, he mentions some of
his other articles. However, he fails to mention the one published by El Mundo on
16 April, entitled “Germany, forced to extradite Puigdemont for rebellion”.

Justifying the ban on international observers

The most striking part of the document containing general information on the trial is
the justification of the fact that the Supreme Court has prevented international
observers from being present in the public gallery. Various organizations, grouped
under the umbrella International Trial Watch, requested permission to attend,
together with Amnesty International. In the face of stiff opposition, the Spanish
government sided with the court: “As is normal in democratic countries, the
recognition or accreditation of ‘international observers’ will not be necessary”.
However, anyone who wishes to personally “observe” the proceedings in court
“may do so freely”, according to the document, which goes on to say that the trial
will be live-streamed.

The Spanish government has also announced that two GCJ judges “will be on hand
to provide journalists with information regarding the more complex legal issues”,
although the Supreme’s press office has refused to confirm this to VilaWeb. Foreign
correspondents will also receive “a basic press kit” with information on the Spanish
legal system and details of the trial. It is worth noting that the document gives the
start-date of the trial as 12 February, well before the Supreme Court turned down
the defence’s request to have more time to prepare their strategy. Furthermore, it
blames the lawyers for the defence for having held up the trial by one week due to
their having lodged several appeals with the court.


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