22.06.2022 - 09:40
One year ago, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe published a blistering report on the political repression by the Spanish state against the Catalan independence movement. It proved to be one of the most embarrassing episodes in the international arena conerning Spain’s respect for the rule of law. The inquiry found that the rights of Catalonia’s pro-independence political leaders had been trampled on, that they had been unjustifiably imprisoned and that they continued to be persecuted, both in Spain and abroad.
The report, drafted by Latvian socialist Boris Cilevics, concluded by calling for the release of the political prisoners. Indeed, three days later they were promptly pardoned by the Spanish government. There was an almost immediate cause-and-effect relationship between the release of the report (the result of more than a year’s work) and the granting of the pardons (which had been discussed for several months). Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Prime Minister, sought to portray the pardons —which were partial and reversible— as a grand gesture towards the Catalan independence movement, thus justifying its political support in Madrid, and bringing an end to the conflict [with Catalonia]. However, Cilevics’ report went much further, including a number of demands which, a year later, have yet to be met by the Spanish authorities.
Cilevics is in the process of drafting a new report into the degree of compliance with the initial recommendations. It will be debated this week by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It remains to be seen what conclusions will be drawn, but it is clear that most of the [original] demands have not been met. The pardons handed out to the political prisoners on June 23rd 2021 serve to conceal the ongoing crackdown, since the Spanish judicial machinery has not stopped and there has been no attempt by the institutions of the State to call a halt to ongoing legal proceedings, neither against political figures nor pro-independence activists.
The Council of Europe’s probe focused on the persecution of pro-independence politicians. The aim of Cilevics’ 18-month research was to investigate the plight of Catalan political prisoners in Spain and the Kurds in Turkey. The fact that Spain appeared alongside Turkey in the same Council of Europe report infuriated the Spanish authorities. Even more so given its damning conclusions: in addition to the release of the jailed politicians, Cilevics called for the crime of sedition to be reviewed so as to prevent unfair penalties being handed out by the courts and for the Spanish government to initiate an open, constructive dialogue with all political forces in Catalonia. It also urged the Spanish authorities to, “refrain from demandind that jailed Catalan politicians renounce their deeply-held political views in exchange for a more favourable prison regime or the possibility of a pardon.”
Furthermore, the report called on Spain to drop the charges against the other low-ranking officials in the case of the 2017 independence vote, and not to pursue any penalties against the successors of those imprisoned for symbolic actions that merely expressed their solidarity with the detainees. The latter was in reference to President Quim Torra.
A year on and nothing has been done about it, neither from a judicial nor from a political point of view: the political prisoners were released with pardons, while they continue to be barred from holding public office. They also carried the explicit threat that the pardons would be reversible, if they were ever convicted of another serious crime. In addition, in an unprecedented move, the Spanish Supreme Court’s Chamber of Contentious Administrative Proceedings has gone back on its word and is now considering requests to review the decision to issue pardons, at the behest of political parties and organisations on the Spanish right. This means there is a possibility that the pardons may be overturned in the coming months. What is more, the political dialogue called for by Cilevics and the Council of Europe has failed to materialise; the promise of a negotiated end to the political conflict is at the exact same place as it was a year ago, when the report was published.
Nevertheless, the most blatant failure to heed the report’s findings is the decision not to drop the proceedings against the exiled Catalan leaders: the Spanish state has applied different standards to them. One of the report’s explicit demands was “the withdrawal of all extradition demands against Catalan politicians living abroad who are wanted for the same reasons [staging the 2017 referendum].” Not only have the European arrest warrants not been dropped, but Spain’s Justice Pablo Llarena decided to keep them, even after having raised pre-trial questions with the ECJ as to how they should be executed. What’s more, he had President Carles Puigdemont arrested [by the Italian authorities] in Alghero, in September of last year, two months after the release of the Cilevics report.
In an interview with VilaWeb, Cilevics stated: “It is not consistent to pardon these leaders while at the same time insisting on the extraditions of their comrades, who did exactly the same thing. The charges against them are identical, but they simply left Spain, and when the charges were filed, they were not physically present. It would not be consistent to arrest them and subsequently convict them.”
The crime of sedition has not been reviewed either, never mind the fact that PM Pedro Sánchez promised to do so in order to obtain the support of the ERC in the Spanish Congress. Sánchez first vowed to amend it at the end of 2020, but it did not come to pass. It was mentioned most recently earlier this year by Félix Bolaños, Spain’s Minister of the Presidency, who declared that it was not a priority and that no steps would be taken in that direction in 2022.
When the Council of Europe’s report called for the withdrawal of the existing charges filed against low-ranking political officials, it referred to criminal cases opened in courts 13 and 18 in Barcelona against dozens of people accused of organising the 1 October referendum. It also called for an end to the proceedings in the High Court of Justice of Catalonia [TSJC in Catalan] in the same case against other defendants, such as MPs Joan Josep Jové and Lluís Salvadó and Catalan minister Natàlia Garriga, who have parliamentary immunity. However, minister Roger Torrent is also awaiting trial in the TSJC for allowing the Catalan chamber to debate self-determination and the abolition of the monarchy in his former role as Speaker of Parliament. Torrent is facing charges together with the other pro-independence members of the Board of Parliament: Josep Costa, Eugeni Campdepadrós and Adriana Delgado.
In addition, there are still ongoing cases before Madrid’s Court of Auditors which threaten the estates of dozens of appointees in the Mas and Puigdemont administrations, both for the 1-O and for the Generalitat’s work abroad.
To Spain’s incessant repression of those who favour independence must be added the inaction of the State itself when it comes to clearing up and investigating the largest political espionage scandal ever seen in the EU: Catalangate. More than sixty pro-independence individuals had their phones hacked using Pegasus spyware and all attempts to bring the case before the Spanish courts have proved fruitless. Furthermore, the Spanish government has refused to launch a serious inquiry into the Spanish police and the intelligence service’s role in the affair.
This is where the Spanish state finds itself with regards to Catalonia’s independence movement a year after the Council of Europe’s report. The pardons were nothing but a public gesture to divert attention away from the failure to implement most of the report’s demands.