'The fight is not over': SNP conference stands in solidarity with jailed Catalan leaders as Clara Ponsati prepares to fight new extradition attempt

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “appalled” by Catalan trial verdict, as SNP conference gives overwhelming support to emergency resolution of solidarity

  • Nine Catalan pro-independence leaders given prison sentences between nine and 13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court for their role in Catalonia’s 2017 referendum
  • Protests break out across Barcelona, with more expected as the day goes on
  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon offers “thoughts and solidarity” to those sentenced and their families
  • Clara Ponsati lawyer Aamer Anwar argues that verdict has rendered Catalan independence “inevitable”
  • The legal team of former Catalan minister Ponsati, who remains exiled in Scotland, are now preparing her case in anticipation of a fresh international arrest warrant from Spain

THE SENTENCING of nine Catalan independence leaders by the Spanish Supreme Court to be between nine and 13 years’ imprisonment has left Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “appalled” and provoked protests across the Catalan capital of Barcelona.

Nine of the 12 civic and political figures on trial for their role the 2017 Catalan independence referendum – which was deemed illegal by Spain’s constitutional court and marred by violent attempts at suppression by the Spanish authorities – have been found guilty of sedition and sentenced to prison, it was announced today [14 October]. The remaining three were found guilty of the lesser charge of disobedience and fined.

However, all of the defendants were found not guilty of the more serious charge of rebellion, for which the prosecution had sought a sentence of up to 25 years for former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras. Junqueras has instead received 13 years for sedition and misappropriation of public funds, the most severe sentence of those handed down. Junqueras’ party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, has responded to the verdict by saying that political dialogue with the Spanish Government will now be impossible without an amnesty for “political prisoners and those in exile”.

READ MORE: Auto-Determinació

The verdict – which had been widely expected to be revealed today, two weeks after the second anniversary of the Catalan referendum – provoked a swift reaction from Catalonia’s independence movement, who took to the streets of Barcelona in a series of protests which are expected to intensify throughout the day and into the night.   

Hundreds of demonstrators surrounded the Barcelona headquarters of the pro-independence civic organisation Òmnium Cultural, whose former head Jordi Cuixart was sentenced to nine years in prison, as well as receiving a nine-year ban on holding any public office. Elsewhere, at the Catalan parliament, a silent protest was held by an estimated 100 deputies and parliamentary staff.

Carles Puigdemont, the exiled former president of Catalonia who remains a fugitive from Spanish authorities, described the verdict as an “atrocity”, while his successor Quim Torra – who had previously stated he would refuse to accept a guilty verdict – condemned the ruling as an “insult to democracy.”

Reaction from the SNP conference

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon commented on the Catalan verdict from the SNP’s ongoing autumn conference in Aberdeen, saying: “I am appalled by today’s outcome.

“These politicians have been jailed for seeking to allow the people of Catalonia to peacefully choose their own future. Any political system that leads to such a dreadful outcome needs urgent change.

“The future of Catalonia should be decided through the ballot box – not in the courts.”

Sturgeon continued: “While it is not for us to take a view on the future of Catalonia, we do have a view on the upholding of democratic expression and civil rights – and have a duty to speak up whenever and wherever those rights are under attack.

“Our thoughts and solidarity are with those sentenced today and their families.

“We will continue to encourage the Spanish and Catalan Governments to resolve their differences by mutually agreed democratic means.”

“These politicians have been jailed for seeking to allow the people of Catalonia to peacefully choose their own future. Any political system that leads to such a dreadful outcome needs urgent change.” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia who met with several of the imprisoned Catalan leaders during a visit to Barcelona in September 2018, also commented: “The imprisonment of nine individuals, found guilty of sedition is an affront to democracy and should bring shame on the Spanish Supreme Court. Sedition is an act of rebellion.

“Those individuals facilitated an open and honest debate and a democratic vote. The Spanish government panicked and tried to close it down, in some cases through acts of violence at polling places. 

“As we see a threat of a right wing agenda on the rise the international community should be united in its condemnation of this process and its outcome . You don’t have to agree with Catalonian independence. This is about the right to democratically choose without fear of persecution or reprisal.”

Delegates at the SNP conference today passed by overwhelming acclaim an emergency topical resolution proposed by Young Scots for Independence (YSI) deploring the verdict and pledging solidarity with the Catalan independence movement.

READ MORE: Catalans in Scotland gear up for solidarity demos as Supreme Court verdicts loom

In an address which drew a standing ovation from the first minister, YSI international officer Valentina Servera Clavell said:  “Today is a sad day for democracy. Today, Spain once again has proven that Franco’s spirit is running the country.

“As a Catalan New Scot, I love Scotland. I am Scottish. But I can never forget who I am and where I come from. My country has been sentenced, because they haven’t only imprisoned our leaders – they have imprisoned our ideas. We will stand by them, until we can see Catalonia be a free country.

“Conference, Spain has never been a democratic state. Our transition after the dictatorship was more of a transaction than anything else. I remember as a child, I remember my mother telling me with happiness of the day Franco died. Little did she know that 30 years later, he would still be running the country.

“Freedom activists and politicians have been sentenced to prison. Oriol Junqueras, someone I see as a mentor, is going to be behind bars for 13 years for a crime that he didn’t commit. Jordi Cuixart – a political activist, not even a politician – his second son was born while he was in jail. He has missed his first step, his first words, the first years of his life. He is probably not going to be able to hug him until he is a teenager.”

“Today, Spain once again has proven that Franco’s spirit is running the country.” YSI International officer Valentina Servera Clavell

Clavell continued: “Conference, this is no longer about whether Catalonia should be be independent or not – may I add, it should – but this is about basic human rights.

“A few years ago, the Clara Ponsati case was raised at the conference, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the support and solidarity you showed to her and to my country. I’m asking you to do this again. The fight is not over.”

Plaid Cymru shadow international affairs spokesperson Delyth Jewell, in her fraternal message on behalf of the Welsh pro-independence party, offered further words of support, saying: “They can imprison you, but they can’t put an idea behind bars.”

Scottish solidarity demonstrations organised by the Catalan Defence Committee Scotland, Catalans for Yes and ANC Scotland are expected to take place tonight at 6pm, at Register House in Edinburgh and on Buchanan Steps in Glasgow.

Aamer Anwar and Clara Ponsati

Speaking to CommonSpace, the Scottish lawyer and human rights advocate Aamer Anwar, who has represented the former Catalan education minister and St Andrews academic Clara Ponsati since the Spanish Government first sought to extradite her on similar charges to those sentenced today, described the outcome of the Catalan trial as “not entirely unexpected.”

Anwar said: “However, it’s still shocking that individuals who have carried out the democratic will of a people in a so-called democracy should be sent to prison for so many years. It’s an indictment of the Spanish state, of their political system and their judicial system.

“When Pedro Sanchez came to power, he said he wanted a political solution rather than a judicial solution. What he has done is added to the fire the [former Spanish prime minister Mariano] Rajoy started, and it is now inevitable that Catalonia will be free. There is nothing than can stop the resistance that will come as a result of these sentences.”

Anwar has recently warned that he expects new international arrest warrants to be issued by Spain for Ponsati, as well as Puigdemont and the former Catalan minister Tony Comin, in the aftermath of the verdict. Anwar now believes that today’s outcome has given proof to the position taken by Ponsati’s legal team last year.

READ MORE: Two years on: Catalan independence leaders call for civil disobedience

Anwar told CommonSpace: “When one looks at the basis of the decision, it is exactly as we stated when we preparing to defend against the extradition of Clara Ponsati. We claimed at that time that, if Clara stood trial, she would not get due process; that the right to a fair trial would be abused; that the Spanish state was carrying out political persecution and acting out of political vengeance.

“Everything that has happened over the course of these several months, and now the conclusion of the judges in Spain, justifies the stand that Clara Ponsati, Puigdemont and others took in resisting the extradition.

Regarding the first minister’s comments, Anwar said: “I’ve seen Nicola’s statement today – I welcome it. I think it’s really important that anybody who believes in democracy, all the political leaders in the United Kingdom who believe in democracy – whatever side of the fence they’re on, whether they believe in independence or not – should be united and unequivocal in their condemnation of Spain for sentencing these men and women.

“It is now inevitable that Catalonia will be free. There is nothing than can stop the resistance that will come as a result of these sentences.” Clara Ponsati lawyer Aamer Anwar

“At this point in time, we are now preparing for international warrants to be executed against Clara Ponsati, as well as Puigdemont and Comin and others.

“We’ve been in discussions with the politicians, with Clara Ponsati and the Catalan lawyers for the past several months. The pressure has been on over the last month because all the leaks that have taken place from the Spanish judiciary have all proven to be correct.

“The bias and persecution that has taken place in recent days, such as the CDR [Committees for the Defence of the Republic, which have in recent weeks been accused on containing violent elements],  all points towards a preparation by the Spanish state to try and relaunch those warrants, because they wish to carry out their operation, which is very much one predicated by the fact that they wish to silence those who fight for Catalan independence. That of course includes figureheads such as Puigdemont, Comin and Clara Ponsati, who have been at the forefront of the fight for independence.”

The battle ahead

Addressing the possible motivations of the Spanish Government which may guide its next steps, Anwar continued: “I suspect very much that the Spanish state is worried by Puigdemont and Comin, who people exercised their democratic will [for] once again, casting two million votes and electing them to the European Parliament. The last thing the Spanish state wants is for them to be successful in the European Court and take their seats [as MEPs], which ultimately will give them immunity.

“Because if they get immunity, and Puigdemont and Comin were to return to Catalonia, it would be unacceptable for the Spanish state to be able to act, and I suspect they would act as a catalyst that would bring about immediate independence to Catalonia. The people would be out of the streets, and I suspect that the people would not go back. At the end of the day, the Spanish state may well be able to jail nine politicians, but they cannot jail six or seven million Catalans, try as they may.

READ MORE: ‘Power rests with the Catalan people’: Aamer Anwar condemns ‘show-trial’ as Catalan leaders await verdict

“It’s all very well for [Spanish prime minister] Pedro Sanchez to be talking about exhuming the remains of General Franco; General Franco will be singing in his grave. General Franco will be overjoyed thinking that the Spanish state is now once again dancing to his tune, which was always one about crushing the aspirations and dreams for independence.

“But the question now is not ‘if’, it’s a question of when Catalonia will be independent. I truly believe now that the only way these prisoners will ultimately be free is when Catalonia’s independence comes about.”

During Ponsati’s first legal battle, which came to an end after the Spanish Government officially withdrew their original European Arrest Warrant seeking her extradition, Anwar says: “We were accused by those acting on behalf of the Spanish and by political commentators, of simply speculating about what would happen if Clara was returned back to Spain. Their argument was: ‘Spanish justice is fair justice, Spanish justice abides by the rule of law, by European standards of human rights’.

READ MORE: Analysis: As Clara Ponsati fights for her freedom, the Spanish legal system goes on trial

“However, on this occasion, the case has probably multiplied by ten times in size, in that we now have the evidence of the manner in which Spanish justice operates. We believe, and our client believes, that is an abuse of human rights and due process.

“We will want to cite all those witnesses; not just Rajoy and individuals who acted in his previous regime that raised the warrants - we will also wish to cite, potentially, government ministers who have spoken publicly, and who have overturned the presumption of innocence. We will want to cite judges and lawyers in this case. We will also wish to bring in the international observers who monitored the five months of the trial that showed what an abuse of law it was.

“So the case is huge now, potentially, and if the warrants are introduced, I would not expect it to finish any time this year, because of the amount of preparation required.

“We expect the people of Scotland and the people of Catalonia to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Clara Ponsati in her struggle for justice.”

Picture: CommonSpace

CommonSpace is entirely funded by small, regular donations from you: our readers. Become a sustaining supporter today.