Photo: (L-R) Oriol Junqueras, Carles Puigdemont, Ada Colau (Credit: from heise.de)
By Ralk Streck
January 14th, 2018
The “independent” Spanish justice system can be quite absurd. For example, Spanish Supreme Court judge, Pablo Llarena, who denied the freedom of the ERC (pro-independence Republican Left) candidate [ex-Vice President Oriol Junqueras], whilst in turn, granted it to six other government counsellors and all of the cabinet members facing the same charges. In a new ruling, he has also since denied his transfer to a prison in Catalonia, so that he can attend the opening day of the new Parliament, arising from the imposed elections by Spain. Llarena justifies this by the possibility of serious conflicts during the transfer, since these are known dates and could lead to violent demonstrations.
There is something of the “grotesque” in the charges of of “rebellion” and “sedition”, according to leading constitutional experts. These judicial accusations have also influenced the independence movement. They add new reasons to desire independence, which never existed in the great mobilizations of the last seven years, and which have been given even more strength the security forces of the state, who acted with the greatest brutality in a well-planned military operation against the peaceful participants in the referendum [this past October].
It is clear that they [Spain] are more afraid of peaceful demonstrations than of an active clandestine organization. In fact, even the Spanish National Court allowed a Basque prisoner, presumed member of ETA, [Juan Karlos Ioldi,] to attend a parliamentary session in the Basque Country in February 1987. The National Court left the decision in the hands of a local court, where it was decided by law and not by political prescription. This makes the absurdity of the decision against Junqueras very clear. In the Basque Country there were demonstrations, even violent ones, again and again, unlike those which are ongoing in Catalonia today. Then, and in spite of continuous attacks by ETA, the Spanish judicial powers decided to defend the political rights of the accused, who was in custody awaiting trial.
Today however, this is not happening, with politicians who lead a demonstrably non-violent movement and who have always strictly demanded non-violence. One should therefore if democratic deficits are even larger today than they were then, or if the Spanish state is much more afraid of a broad mass movement than of an active, armed organization.
In any case, Ioldi was not elected “Lehendakari” [President of the Basque Country] and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for belonging to an armed organization, illegal possession of weapons and attacks resulting in serious injuries. Junqueras, for non-violent actions, is threatened him with 30 years of prison, for his alleged “rebellion”.
In Spanish “Absurdistan”, as some observers call the puzzle pieces of Spanish justice, the judge has not yet issued any decision regarding the two “Jordis” [Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart], or the interior minister Joaquín Forn, though it is safe to bet that the two who are running for office, Sánchez and Forn, will not be able to attend the constituent meeting of Parliament.
And even more absurd, Llarena has also asked the [Catalan Parliament] to investigate for another method for the three elected parliamentarians [currently in custody awaiting trial] to vote [in the elections for Speaker of the House on January 17th]. Obviously, someone is already beginning to fear reprisals by the European Court of Human Rights if the attempt to distort the outcome of the elections with imprisonment decisions becomes too obvious.
Madrid wants to prevent the current President, Puigdemont, from being reinstated
The messages from Spain at present state that it is impossible for President Carles Puigdemont, expelled from office, to attend his own investiture remotely, from Belgium.
The right wing Popular Party (PP) government has already announced the immediate submission of a protest to the Constitutional Court. It intends “by all means” to prevent Puigdemont from being reinstated while he is exiled in Belgium. Although Spain was forced to withdraw the European arrest warrant against Puigdemont and the four other counsellors in Belgium, because the charges against them wouldn’t have had any chance of success in the independent Belgian justice system, arrest warrants against them are still in vigour in Spain. The five would be immediately arrested.
The presiding judge has made it very clear that he will not let them participate in the parliamentary sessions due to the possibility of violent demonstrations, though there have been none to date. Obviously, this is about preventing former Vice-President Junqueras or ex-President Puigdemont from being elected as the new President.
Given the precedent of the aforementioned Ioldi case, and the fact that the judge follows the patently absurd arguments of the Ministry, it’s virtually impossible to speak of an independent judiciary.
What’s more, it’s arguably still not even clear that the dismissal of the President and the dissolution of the Catalan government and Parliament were legal. The Spanish Constitutional Tribunal, which has just accepted a complaint on the issue, has apparently also expressed doubts about the unconstitutional application of Article 155. But one might speculate that the verdict was decided on this issue ages ago, in view of the politicized composition of the Constitutional Tribunal, in which PP candidates make up the majority of representatives.
Has the complaint been accepted only to delay a hearing at the Human Rights Tribunal in Strasbourg? Before any legal process in Strasbourg, the legal process of the country in question must be completed. Many years may pass before the judges of the Constitutional Tribunal finally make a ruling. While there is no sentence, Strasbourg cannot deal with the case. Decisions on the Referendum Law and the Catalan Transition Law were taken in a matter of hours, illustrating the time-sensitive nature of decisions about this process.
Attacks on the Catalan Media
Currently, measures are being taken against “bothersome” Catalan media. They were prevented from broadcasting the largest event of the election campaign, the large demonstration by Catalans in Brussels, and now the [Spanish government] have begun to attempt to apply financial laws retrospectively to hollow them out economically.
The German newspaper “Freitag”, has referred to “fiscal maneuvers” as an attempt to “dismantle the civil resistance of the pro-independence media by instilling fear of economic debt, to convert them into media which are only sustainable if docile”.
They go on to mention the “indisputable rule in all democratic countries that a tax increase should not have retroactive effect, otherwise any economic and commercial planning would certainly be impossible”, breaks down in the case of the Catalans.
The Spanish Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, has modified the criteria for the application of VAT on cultural services, claiming a debt applying to the past three years.
One of the main reasons for this measure has been to torpedo Catalan TV3 television. Due to the new law, the Ministry of Finance claims TV3 now owe a total of €168 million euros, of which 30 million must be paid very shortly. This would surely imply the closure of this television channel deemed very annoying by Madrid.
What’s being applied in Catalonia is the policy which has already been applied in the Basque Country, with the illegal closure of newspapers and even the torture of journalists. Spain was condemned for this in Strasbourg, which did not prevent new newspapers from appearing the following day.
Freitag concludes: “TV3, whose quality is highly praised in professional circles in Europe, has always been an affront to the eyes of Spanish rulers, since, unlike the main Spanish television channel, it has retained its independence and not allowed themselves to be used as a herald to spread everything the Spanish government wishes to communicate, for better or for worse”.
On top of that, the tax measure affects culture in general; including festivals, theaters and museums, which will suffer equally.
The application of laws retroactively in Spain is not new, and can be seen in the prohibition of the Basque party Herri Batasuna in 2003, after the adoption of the law of political parties, devised to also ban the Euskal Herritarrok party.
The remuneration for contributions to the electrical supply by domestic solar energy installations have also been reduced retrospectively, in Spain. The country has cut subsidies several times, and this has been declared “abusive” by an international court. Spain was sentenced to pay damages once. And there are dozens of decisions still pending, which will cost the country billions.