Photo: Veronica Landa (Credit: Antonio Litov)
By: Clara Ardévol Mallol
Date: 28th October, 2018
After the police violence of the first of October 2018, numerous citizens who raised their voice against the action of the Spanish police were charged, with various offences. The journalist and historian Verónica Landa believes that her case has a lot to do with this wave of judicial repressive. Although she has not been charged specifically for criticizing the action of the police on that day, she considers that the case against her is devised in such a way as to serve as “damage control” for the reputation of the Spanish police in Catalonia, after the fact. Out of the blue, in the month of May she received a judicial summons. The reason? Sebastián Trapote, the Spanish police chief during 1-O, had denounced her for an alleged crime of slander as a result of an article published in Izquierda Diario over a year ago. Landa had picked up on a number of cases, in an effort to demonstrate the impunity of police abuses in Spain. She mentioned Trapote, who had been implicated in a 1974 case that ended with the death of a detainee. We speak with the journalist, who will appear in court on December 14th, after a series of postponements.
-What arguments form the basis of the accusation of slander against Sebastián Trapote?
-The reason for the slander charge is that in an article I mentioned that Trapote was involved in a case in 1974 in which a detainee was killed and that there was no due judicial process because of the application of backwards applicable general “indultos” amnesties and pardons for police action in 1977, during the so-called democratic transition. They say that this is false, that there is no pardon because there was no condemnation. The denunciation provides a statement from 1974 that does not address the issue of pardons or anything really, and this is intended to sustain their accusation. However, they make a point of not addressing or including the ruling of the Superior Court of Barcelona from 1983, which states that the police version does not hold up and that the facts cannot be judged, since they take refuge in the general pardons. There was no condemnation because the 1974 case never came to judge, but I relied on this  sentence. So, it is ridiculous to consider that mentioning a ‘pardon’ is to slander him, because it is written up in the 1983 case and appears publically just like this. In addition, the widow of the victim undertook a legal procedure to have the events be recognized as facts, and to be formally recognized as his widow. She achieved this, after many years, and the Interior Ministry paid her compensation, which also appears in this sentence.
– There are other media outlets who have published articles on this case, but no other journalist has been accused of slander.
-Yes, and therefore it surprises me that the charge landed at my door, and no one else’s. I wrote the article as a result of the case of another police officer who had been involved in cases of torture, deaths in police custody and other ill-treatment and yet who had risen through the ranks. So, I was collecting similar cases in my research. Trapote’s case only took up five line, really. That same month, Público published a similar article and months later El Confidencial did too. On top of that, during the eighties the case appeared in El País, Interviú, Tele/eXpres … There is also an historical investigation by historian David Ballester, in which Trapote’s case is very well documented.
-The complaint against you came a few months after 1-O, having already been a year since your article had been published. Do you think that it has something to do with the fact that Sebastián Trapote’s was in the spotlight at that time?
-That’s what we thought when the complaint arrived. We thought that as a result of 1-O and with the terrible image the Spanish police had in Catalonia, this could be a measure to shield them, in particular Trapote, one of those who was responsible for the operation [in Catalonia]. In addition, at our newspaper we covered 1-O massively, so we believe that this also has something to do with it. It’s in line with all the cases we are seeing at present against people who are facing charges for having commented about police behavior, like the woman who was investigated for having hung a banner that said ‘Police go home’ on her balcony. I link my case, on the one hand, with all the allegations that are linked to freedom of expression throughout Spain and, on the other hand, with the allegations that occurred after the first of October.
-As a historian, did you find more cases like this one in which Trapote was involved?
– There are articles that say that, a few years after 1974, he, along with a few other police officers, was involved in a shootout. The telling of the story in one of the articles I found is epic in style, though it points out that he stopped short of shooting – surely because he had the 1974 incident in the front of his mind – and he was injured in the fray. Beyond that I didn’t come across anything.
-Do you believe that the impunity of the police is as strong now as then?
-There are many cases which remain unpunished. This has been explained well by David Ballester. There are many similar cases in which the police involved pop up awhile later in the BOE [official bulletin of the government], being decorated or promoted. This does not mean that they are being decorated for ill-treatment and torture, but simply that these actions are not being punished and, therefore, the route is open for them to climb the ranks, or receive decorations. There are reports from Amnesty International which point out that police impunity in Spain still exists. For example there is the case of Juan Andrés Benítez, the man who was beaten by several Catalan Police in the Raval neighbourhood [of Barcelona] and ended up dying. There are also cases without condemnation or that they did not even make it to trial.
-You say on the one hand, related to these attacks on freedom of expression; so do you take your case as an attack on the freedom of the press and information?
-In this case, and in others, such as that of Boro, another journalist, more independent journalism is what is being attacked, the kind of journalism that deals with certain issues which don’t appear in mainstream media, or involved much more in depth, committed research.
-Boro has said that mainstream media has not talked about his case. Nor of yours?
-In that we are very close to my case, we sent out many press releases and El País got in touch with me. They told me they would cover it and they even asked me for the details of the charge sheet. Subsequently it never came out though. The independent media have covered it more than the official mainstream outlets. In the press it has had little repercussion. All attacks on journalists are brutal, but, moreover, this comes directly from what was until now the head of the Spanish police in Catalonia. Directly against me. There are cases I know of where the case is brought forward by the police union or other organizations. In my case it it comes directly from the head of the police.
-You are members of the “3 d’Octubre” platform. What does this organization think of the wave of repression sweeping Catalonia?
-In Spain, for years, there have been brutal attacks on freedom of expression, against the people that organize themselves, against trade unionists … But in Catalonia this wave has multiplied by a thousand times in these last few years: from accusations of terrorism against the members of the CDRs [Committees for the Defense of the Republic] to the political prisoners – there are thousands of such active cases. When we started the solidarity campaign, we needed to coordinate, to link cases of Catalonia with those of the rest of the state, to be able to fight against these laws. If we do not do this, we remain vulnerable to their attacks, which often start from a whim or some sort of foolishness that simply appeals to =the attacker on a given day. Repression in Catalonia is really significant, especially directed towards a very mobilized and active youth demographic, as we have seen recently with the arrest of members of the CDRs. Reports are coming out that are really disgusting to me. Maybe they’ll come to nothing in the end, but the simple fact is that they are used as a way of frightening, to try to tame us, to deliver a propaganda message that says: “If you go out to do something, this is what will happen to you; We will mobilize the whole apparatus of the state so that you end up giving statements to a court, and being judged.” It is a way of making an example of people who speak out, and ruling with an iron fist to reduce the number of people who mobilize.
-What do you think of what will happen in your case, considering what happened with similar cases?
-When you explain the situation and examine the complaint in detail, all experts say it looks as if it will get nowhere. But when you see then that cases which start from absurd comments on Twitter, like Nahuel’s case, reach the national court, you can’t get complacent. Charges are admitted and surrealistic proceedings in court definitely happen here.