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The trial of nine Catalan political prisoners clashes with the fundamental values of the European Union

12 Feb 2019 3 minute read
Police officers hitting with batons protesters organised in passive resistance in Barcelona during the referendum. Picture by Robert Bonet (CC BY-SA 3.0 ES)

Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru MEP

Today, after having been in arbitrary pre-trial detention for over fourteen months, nine Catalan political prisoners (six former members of the Catalan Government, the former Speaker of Parliament and two civil society leaders) are facing a long trial before the Spanish Supreme Court.

They face the grave charges of rebellion, disobedience and embezzlement of public funds.

Their crime? To have organised or supported a referendum on self-determination, in line with the democratic mandate given to them by the Catalan people.

They now risk a prison sentence of up to 25 years, since the crime of rebellion, which involves a ‘violent and public uprising’ according to Spanish law, is one of the most serious crimes in the Spanish criminal code.

Yet the undeniable truth is that they did not use or incite any violence, as accepted by the German court which turned down the extradition of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.

Indeed, the only violence came from the brutal and shameful police response that left over a thousand injured voters. Police officers beating peaceful people trying to cast their ballot: this is an image we never again want to see in the European Union.

Together with members of the EU-Catalonia Dialogue Platform in the European Parliament, we regret the repressive and judicial response of the Spanish authorities to a conflict that is political in nature.

We reject the false narrative behind the accusations, and we denounce that, yes, this trial is a political trial. Dialogue and negotiation, not imprisonment and criminal prosecution, should have been the instruments through which Catalonia’s legitimate and democratic right to self-determination ought to have been channelled.

This political trial is not only an internal Spanish affair. It has a clear European dimension since it clashes with the fundamental values of our Union such as democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to political participation.

Even the right to a fair trial is at stake, since the political prisoners have denounced numerous irregularities during the pre-trial phase.

For instance, most of their appeals against their pre-trial imprisonment brought before the Spanish Constitutional Court are pending, thereby blocking their access to the European Court of Human Rights.

We will be watching this political trial closely. Because we are strongly persuaded that political conflicts that involve fundamental rights are not a matter for judges.

Catalans have a legitimate right to democratically decide their own political future, and Madrid and Brussels need politicians with the courage to settle political conflicts not with criminal charges, but with the tools of democracy.

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