Amnesty calls for “immediate release” of Catalan independence activists Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez
TODAY (16 October) marks one year since the arrest of the Catalan independence activists Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart – better known to the pro-independence grassroots as ‘the Two Jordis’ – who remain in prison and have yet to face trial.
In recognition of the anniversary, the Catalan Defence Committee Scotland has reiterated widespread calls upon the government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to break with its precedessor and release its political prisoners, as well as allowing other Catalan politicians charged with rebellion and sedition – such as the Scotland-based former education minister Clara Ponsati – to return from political exile.
Elsewhere, some 15 MEPs from different countries and political parties also marked the occasion by demonstrating outside of the European Parliament in support of the two Jordis’ release.
At the time of Catalonia’s independence referendum, which took place on 1 October, 2017, in defiance of edicts from the Spanish Government and constitutional court, Sanchez was the president of the Catalan National Assembly, a non-party, pro-independence grassroots campaign that became pivotal in the run-up to the vote, while Cuixart was the head of Omnium Cultural, an organisation which promotes Catalan culture, that historically experienced suppression throughout Spain’s Francoist period.
Both organisations were significantly involved in organising the major pro-independence demonstrations that led up to the referendum, as well as a general strike on 3 October last year, which saw 700,000 take to the streets in the Catalan capital of Barcelona.
Both were arrested and jailed on 16 October, 2017, on charges of sedition for their role in organising the referendum. They are also accused of calling upon Catalans to gather in front of Catalan Government buildings on 20-21 September last year, in order to obstruct Spanish authorities as they conducted raids and arrested a number of Catalan officials as part of ‘Operation Anubis’. Witnesses claim that the two were actually engaged in trying to calm and disperse the crowds.
Sanchez and Cuixart’s charges were subsequently combined with those of the Catalan Government, allowing them to also be charged with rebellion and increasing any potential jail sentence they could face.
The decision to place both in pretrial detention without bail was made by Madrid judge Carmel Lamela, who singled out the two activists as the principal instigators of protests which the judge perceived as attempts to prevent the enforcement of the law. Lamela further justified his decision – widely condemned as disproportionate - as a means of avoiding Sanchez and Cuixart going into hiding or tampering with evidence.
The anniversary protests in solidarity with Sanchez and Cuixart follow the announcement on 13 October that Spanish prosecutors will request a 25-to-30 year sentence for former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, who also remains in prison, and 15 to 25 years for all other catalan ministers, as well as the former speaker of the Catalan parliament.
The potential sentence faced by Sanchez and Cuixart depends on whether the judge deems them to be ‘leaders’ or ‘participants’ in the allegedly criminal democracy they helped enact.
“If the new Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, wants to show that he is different from Mariano Rajoy, it isn’t enough to just say he is, he has to prove it with action and release the prisoners and allow exiles to return.” CDC Scotland spokesperson
Commenting, a spokesperson for CDC Scotland said: “On the one year anniversary of the arrest of ‘the Two Jordis’, it’s important to remember the full extent of the Spanish state’s crackdown on democracy and the Catalan people's’ freedom of expression and right to self-determination.
“It is completely unjustifiable for the Spanish state to go after politicians and grassroots activists and imprison them for one whole year without trial. Their charges are farcical.
“By pursuing decades long prison sentences, the Spanish state is trying to threaten the Catalan people - similar to the Franco era. But the Catalan people remain strong and determined as seen by the largest ever Diada celebration last month.
“If the new Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, wants to show that he is different from Mariano Rajoy, it isn’t enough to just say he is, he has to prove it with action and release the prisoners and allow exiles to return.”
Speaking at solidarity protest at the European Parliament this morning, alongside members of the EU-Catalonia Dialogue Platform, Swedish MEP Bodil Valero said: “The EU and its institutions cannot look the other way.
“Spain has still room to avoid a shameful political process against the political prisoners,” Valero added, though he said that he does not expect this to occur.”
"Amnesty International believes their continued detention constitutes a disproportionate restriction of their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.” Amnesty International deputy director for Europe Fotis Fillippou
The Brussels demonstration follows yesterday’s call by the human rights group Amnesty International for the “immediate release” of Sanchez and Cuixart, with Amnesty deputy director for Europe Fotis Fillippou arguing that "there is no justification” for keeping the two leaders in pre-trial imprisonment. Amnesty have previously been critical of Spain’s disregard for human rights throughout the Catalan crisis.
Fillippou continued: "Amnesty International believes their continued detention constitutes a disproportionate restriction of their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.”
Amnesty International has further stated that, according to the information available to them, the charges against the two are completely unfounded and should therefore be dropped. If it can be demonstrated that Sanchez and Cuixart called on sympathetic demonstrators to prevent Spanish police from carrying out lawful operations, Amnesty may revise this view, but at present believe that both the accusations facing the pair and their detainment are unjustified.
Further marking the anniversary of their arrest, letters from Cuixart and Sanchez were sent to the RAC1 radio station, in which both activists claim their “rights to defence are being violated” and that there is no reason they should remain imprisoned while awaiting trial.
Sanchez writes: “My imprisonment and that of the others defines the viscerality, lack of impartiality, the prejudices, and the politicization of the judges in the Spanish Supreme Court and specifically judge Llarena.”
Cuixart also writes that their trial “will act as an international loudspeaker making Spain look in the mirror in Europe.”
“Fighting for freedom and human rights is a privilege. One year in jail, no steps backwards: more courage and dignity than ever. We remain hopeful: always forward!” Jordi Cuixart
Cuixart continues: “The aim cannot be to leave prison, but to face the next attack from Spain in the only way we know in this country: united in diversity, across society, and with democratic radicalness.”
Cuixart has rejected asking for a pardon in the event of a guilty verdict, saying that those who have raised the possibility “have not understood anything,” arguing the the “clumsy and disproportionate actions” of Spanish authorities have “strengthened my peaceful democratic convictions and belief in civil disobedience and, without any desire for revenge, I cannot give them up.”
On Twitter today, Cuixart also expressed this thanks to those who have supported Catalonia’s political prisoners in the year since their arrest: “Fighting for freedom and human rights is a privilege. One year in jail, no steps backwards: more courage and dignity than ever. We remain hopeful: always forward! Thank you for 365 days of generosity and tenderness,” he said.
While the current Catalan President Quim Torra has met with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and indicated he is open to negotiation in order to reach an agreement with the Spanish Government on a new, mutually recognised independence referendum, Torra has been unyielding in his demands that all Catalan political prisoners be released without condition.
Picture courtesy of Assemblea.cat
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