MEPs argue that correspondence within the Spanish judiciary violates the EU Charter of Human Rights and “undermines the principle of the Rule of Law”
LEAKED messages from the corporate email accounts of several Spanish judges which refer to members of the Catalan independence movement as "rapists, sons of bitches, vermin, germs and Nazis" have unleashed a firestorm of controversy, following their publication by two newspapers.
Eldiario.es and el Món published the leaked chat logs this morning [20 September], revealing that some Spanish judges refer to the events surrounding the outlawed Catalan referendum of October 2017 as a "coup d’etat" and draw comparisons between the situation in Catalonia and Nazi Germany.
The leaked material’s publication comes on the first anniversary of ’20-S’, the Guardia Civil operations which saw a total of 41 Catalan Government buildings raided by authorities and resulted in the incarceration of a number of pro-independence leaders, including grassroots activists Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, who remain imprisoned. The operation signalled a significant breakdown in trust between Spanish authorities and the Catalan people, presaging the state violence which greeted the subsequent plebiscite.
"As a Spaniard, a Catalan, and a judge, what happened on September 6 and October 1 [in Catalonia] was a coup d’état," reads one of the newly leaked messages, reportedly written by a judge on 6 October last year. "You can’t negotiate with those who carry out a coup, nor engage in dialogue with them."
"It's the same that occurred in Germany long ago," reads another comment – one of several which makes explicit comparisons between Catalan independence movement and Nazism.
A further message from a different judge argues that "the bloodshed that [pro-independence leaders] aimed for can’t go unpunished."
The comments also reveal several judges hailing Spanish king Felipe VI, as well as other symbols of the Spanish state, with one reading: "Long live the Spanish police, long live the Guardia Civil, long live Spain and long live the colleagues who truly look after our legal system."
Response from the Catalan Government and the wider Catalan independence movement was swift and furious, with Catalan President Quim Torra this morning calling for the president of General Council of the Spanish Judiciary (CGPJ) Carlos Lesmes to “resign immediately” pending a “full investigation.”
In light of the scandal, Torra further called for "all those unfairly imprisoned must be immediately released,” announcing that he would be raising the issue with the European Commissioner for Justice, Verá Jourová.
Torra added: "The lack of judicial independence is a European problem.”
Spanish President Pedro Sánchez has responded to the leak by stating that he trusts "in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary" of Spanish.
Speaking today at a Salzburg press conference, Sánchez offered his "guarantee" that the judges "overseeing the ongoing case against pro-independence leaders in Catalonia" are independent.
However, such faith is not widespread. Later on Thursday, a group of 15 MEPs announced that written questions had been sent to the European Commission concerning the leaked material. In a letter published by Catalan MEP on Twitter today, the MEPs request that EC open its own investigation and provide comment on the questionable independence and impartiality of the Spanish judiciary.
Violation of judicial independence in #Spain:
15 MEPs send today a Written Question to the European Commission with the leaks of emails exchanges between Spain's judges against Catalan pro-independence leaders pic.twitter.com/T9quymO0Y4
— Ramon Tremosa 🎗🌹 (@ramontremosa) September 20, 2018
The MEPs argue that the leaked comments "undermine the principle of Rule of Law and judicial independence, violating Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights."
The letter calls upon the EC to embark upon an investigation in order to "explain how these exchanges between Spanish judges are compatible with judicial independence and respect of the rule of law in Spain," and provide its own official comment on whether impartiality can be "guaranteed in the trials against Catalan politicians and civil society leaders by the Spanish justice system."
Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, according to the 15 MEPs’ interpretation, protects "the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, right of defence, the principles of legality and proportionality."
"There is a consensus between certain powers in Spain that its unity goes beyond the rule of law.” Catalan vice-president Pere Aragonès
Catalan vice-president Pere Aragonès also commented that the leaked material shows that “anything goes” for the Spanish judiciary when the unity of the Spanish state is threatened, telling the Catalan radio station Rac1 earlier today: "There is a consensus between certain powers in Spain that its unity goes beyond the rule of law.”
Joan Tardà, Esquerra Republicana's (ERC) Spanish congress spokesperson, echoed this view, saying: "In Spain there is no separation of powers.
"The judiciary has not been democratized, and the Supreme Court has been corrupt in its functions. They want to make us believe that we live in a democracy of excellence, but it is low cost.”
Scottish lawyer Aamer Anwar, whose planned defence of the exiled former Catalan minister Clara Ponsati while she was fighting extradition from Scotland hinged upon demonstrating the lack of impartiality in the Spanish judiciary, wrote on Twitter following the leaked material’s publication: “Is Spanish Justice in the hands of fanatics & xenophobes?”
Is Spanish Justice in the hands of fanatics & xenophobes? As leaked emails between Judges expose a system full of vengeance, hate & bias against Catalans & the independence movement #LlibertatPresosPoliticsiexiliats🎗 https://t.co/7sFutWzRjE
— Aamer Anwar🎗🌹 (@AamerAnwar) September 20, 2018
A spokeswoman for Judges for Democracy, Montserrat Comas, commented that the leaked messages are "regrettable”, but claimed that the views expressed do not represent the majority of the Spanish judiciary.
However, several unionist parties have come to the defence of the Spanish judiciary, with Ciutadans leader Albert Rivera expressing his "full support" for the judges, as well as any other "public servants who have defended the state."
Invoking the legacy of S-20, Rivera also condemned the fact that the events of 20 September 2017 are “celebrated”, because "in a democracy, Guardia Civil cars are not destroyed, nor are judges surrounded," and in a ministry of economy "documents for organizing a coup d'état cannot be found."
Meanwhile, Xavier García Albiol, leader of the right-wing People's Party in Catalonia (PPC) defended the judges' sentiments, arguing: "they express a feeling shared by most Catalans and the immense majority of Spaniards."
He continued: "What some judges write in their messages is what we write and what the majority of us Catalans who are not pro-independence think.”
The scandal marks the latest breakdown in relations between Catalan politics and the Spanish authorities, following claims by the left-wing pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party that Spanish police have been spying on their Barcelona headquarters.
CUP spokeswoman Mireia Boya today told press that Spanish police agents "take notes and photographs,” noting "who enters and leaves" the CUP HQ. According to CUP’s claims, this has been going on over the last year.
Boya added: "This is an abuse of authority that does not even respect its own democratic rules.”
Picture courtesy of Premsa SantCugat