They need to get up at 5 am. They aren’t allowed an alarm clock but they must be ready to leave by the time the officers come to fetch them and drive them to the courthouse in Madrid city. They are handcuffed and driven in a windowless Guardia Civil van that doesn’t allow them to see the outside. For this reason every transfer is a nightmare for some of them, as they are prone to motion sickness. It’s about an hour’s drive. When they get to their destination, they get out of the vehicle with their hands cuffed behind their back and are handed over to Spanish police officers who will escort them to the holding cells where all of them must wait until it is their turn to appear in court.
Each one is held in a separate cell, but first they must hand over their glasses, tie, papers, pens and shoe laces. They will have to wait for a few hours. Each cell is about eight square metres, with a built-in concrete bench, a toilet and a washbasin. It is a dirty, sordid place, as minister Joaquim Forn wrote in his book Escrits de Presó (Writings from Prison). It is a hole where he has even found faeces. On occasion he has had to spend up to five hours in such a place.
When the time comes to appear in court, they are taken out of the cell, cuffed again, and driven to the Supreme Court in a Spanish police van. The reason: there are no holding cells in the Supreme Court, as trials are rarely held there and it mostly deals with appeals in public sessions. When they appear before the judge, the Catalan independence leaders must stay focused and alert, whilst keeping their nerves in check. In her book 34 dies de tardor i un de primavera (34 Days in Autumn plus one in Spring), minister Mertixell Borràs explains that she had to take a tranquilliser.
Like an oral exam
Àlex Solà, Jordi Cuixart’s lawyer, said to this newspaper that “a trial is the closest thing to an oral exam, that’s what a trial is about”. It is an exam that they must sit under appalling conditions. Minister Quim Forn also mentioned it in his book: “I wonder how many lawyers, judges and reporters realise what an ordeal these transfers are and the conditions in which they are conducted. I wonder if they realise what it means to be locked up in a holding cell for several hours ahead of a deposition. It doesn’t happen in the best of circumstances”.
The defendants might bump into each other when one has just finished giving their oral testimony and the next one is taken to the room to begin theirs. Yet they are not allowed to speak to each other. If they attempt to exchange a greeting, the officers reprimand them. When they are done, they are taken back to the cell and given cheese or chorizo sandwiches which are inedible.
That’s what a morning transfer from prison to court is like whenever they have been summoned to have their statement taken. Catalonia’s political prisoners have gone through this routine several times since they were first held on remand a year ago. They recall and describe the experience as the worst they’ve had to endure ever since they were deprived of their freedom. They will have to go through it again soon enough, once the trial over the October events kicks off, presumably in January. Only this time they will have to endure the ordeal every day, from Monday through Friday, for two or three months, which is the length of time the trial is expected to go on for.
Morning and afternoon sessions?
The prisoners’ lawyers are the last ones to find out about many details. News outlets and even former Justice Minister Rafael Catalá somehow were able to anticipate the decisions that the examining magistrate, Pablo Llarena, would take shortly afterwards. Some time ago Spanish media reported rumours that the trial would not only be held from Monday to Friday, but also morning and afternoon. That is unthinkable in a huge trial such as this, with a brief spanning over 140,000 pages and which includes thousands of videos and photos, with over fifteen defendants. Spain’s judiciary is in a rush and wants to wrap up the case in a short time so that it doesn’t stretch until the campaign for the local elections begins in May 2019. This necessarily means a trial schedule that is practically inhumane for the defendants.
If sessions resume in the afternoon, there will likely be an hour’s recess for lunch. Last week Jordi Pina, who represents Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull spoke about this on RAC-1: “We will probably have a set meal in a café outside the courthouse while they will have a chorizo sandwich and a bottle of water for lunch in a four square metre holding cell. That will go on non-stop for two months, day in and day out. And when they appear in court, they will have to be collected and fully focused. They cannot afford to be exhausted, but trials are exhausting. When you spend from 10 am until 6 pm in court for a trial where you are facing ten, fifteen or thirty years in jail, it is not something you take lightly. You cannot let your mind wander even for half an hour. They must remain on top form and take notes. All in all, it’s going to get in the way of the necessary focus which the defendants must keep. That’s why we argued that our clients would only get a level playing field provided they were released [on bail]”.
When do we meet our clients?
Lawyer Àlex Solà says: “If the court is in session from Monday to Friday, in the morning as well as the afternoon, it means that they will have to be driven back to prison at 7 or 8 pm, so they will get to their cells at about 10 or 11 pm, past dinner time”. It should be noted that the transfers to and from the Madrid prison where they will be held during the trial will closely resemble the routine they followed when they were deposed during the pre-trial phase. After only a few hours’ sleep, it will all start over again the next day, with all the strain from the trial and all the hardship that the transfers involve.
Besides, preparing a trial like this, one with sessions held Monday through Friday, morning and afternoon, is really awkward for lawyers because they have no gaps to meet with their client and be better prepared for the upcoming dates in court. It is yet another violation of their right to legal counsel and to operate by the same rules as the prosecution. “I can’t think when us lawyers will get to meet with our clients. This sort of long trial is never held on every weekday, but Monday through Thursday at the most, and they typically leave Friday to sort out the stuff that you have been unable to do during the week. If you are meant to be in court Monday through Friday, what can you do as a lawyer?”, Solà complains.
The legal teams hope that the whole thing will be broadcast on tv. Ultimately, it will be for the Supreme Court to decide, even though there are no objective reasons why they might not allow it to be shown on tv. “It is imperative for the trial to be broadcast so that the public may monitor it and everyone can see what is going on”, said one of the lawyers to this newspaper a few days ago. This could have two effects. Firstly, the public would get to oversee the proceedings. Secondly, everyone would be granted direct access to the arguments put forward by the prosecutor, the plaintiffs and the defence, as well as the allegations of the defendants.