Thursday, December 25, 2014

Citizens queue in front of Supreme Court to plead guilty for symbolic independence vote

Hundreds of citizens have pled guilty in solidarity with the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, Vice President, Joana Ortega, and Catalan Minister for Education, Irene Rigau, who are being prosecuted by the Spanish authorities for having authorised and co-organised the symbolic vote on independence that took place on 9 November. On Tuesday morning, citizens queued to plead guilty in front of Catalonia’s Supreme Court. 

This comes a day after the Court accepted the launching of a judicial investigation on the criminal complaints against three members of the Catalan Government filed by a few individuals, extreme-right organisations and the Spanish Public Prosecution Office, whose Director is directly appointed by the Spanish Government. The solidarity campaign is organised by the civil society association that organised the largest pro-independence rallies of the last 2 years, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC). Many leading politicians are also pleading guilty and all the parties in Catalonia, except the Spanish nationalist ones, have come out in protest against the penal prosecution of the Catalan Government on account of a political issue.

Among the hundreds of citizens queuing to hand in a form by which they plead guilty for having participated in November’s vote, there were leading politicians such as the President of the left-wing Catalan independence party ERC, Oriol Junqueras – who leads the opposition in the Catalan Parliament, and two of the main members of the governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull. In fact, the Catalan Parliament already pled guilty a few weeks ago, when the Spanish Public Prosecution Office, under pressure from the Spanish Government and the People’s Party (PP), decided to press charges against the Catalan President, the Vice President and the Education Minister. Such a prosecution is extremely controversial from both a political and a legal point of view. The prosecution of Mas, Ortega and Rigau – who are so far the only ones targeted – has caused outrage throughout Catalan society, since 2.35 million people participated in the peaceful and democratic non-binding vote held on 9 November, despite the Spanish Government applying pressure and making threats in an attempt to stop participation.

Several criminal complaints have been filed, including that of the Spanish Public Prosecution Office

A few weeks ago, the Catalan Supreme Court decided to group together all the criminal complaints filed regarding November’s vote in order to analyse them altogether, since they all refer to the same series of actions. On the 9 November, tens of complaints were filed by citizens and organisations in many courts throughout Catalonia. Furthermore, Spanish nationalist parties and organisations also filed complaints on 8 November, the day before the symbolic vote, and on the days after the vote took place. 

On top of this, the Spanish Public Prosecution Office finally decided to press charges as well, despite the main prosecutors in Catalonia arguing that there were not enough legal grounds to do so. However, after being incapable of stopping Catalans from expressing their opinion on independence from Spain through a symbolic vote without any legal ramifications, the Spanish Government was particularly vocal after it took place and asked the Director of the Public Prosecution Office “to act” and press charges against the Catalan Government for having authorised and co-organised it. The Director of Spain’s Public Prosecution Office, Eduardo Torres Dulce, eventually did so but then resigned a few weeks later, tired of arguing with the Spanish Government.

On Monday, the 6 judges of the TSJC’s penal section accepted all the criminal complaints that have been filed over the last few weeks against Artur Mas, Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau for authorising and co-organising November’s vote on independence. After a four-hour meeting, they accepted the calls to investigate “the facts relating to the alleged disobedience” to a Constitutional Court’s decision “as well as any other facts that, in a direct or indirect way, may be related to it”. At the same time, the TSJC also rejected those charges pressed against mayors who authorised the use of municipal venues to set up polling stations and school directors who facilitated the use of education centres for the same purpose, following instructions from the Catalan Government. Furthermore, the complaints against leading members of the Catalan Parliament, such as the Chamber’s President, Núria de Gispert, and other members of the Catalan Government, such as the Minister for Home Affairs, Ramon Espadaler, have also been rejected.

Protest from most of the Catalan parties

All the political parties in Catalonia, except the two Spanish nationalist ones, have protested against the prosecution of members of the Catalan Government, including the Catalan President, for November’s non-binding vote on independence. On Monday, the ERC’s leader, Oriol Junqueras, stated that “if they attack the [Catalan] Government because it defended democracy, they are attacking all of us”. Furthermore, ERC’s candidate to become Barcelona’s Mayor, Alfred Bosch, said that the Supreme Court will have accepted “the most crowded complaint in history”, since 2.35 million Catalans participated in the symbolic vote. The governing CiU also protested on Monday and on Tuesday, saying they are “perplexed” by the launching of a judicial investigation, but that they hoped it will come to “nothing” when the judges start to analyse the case. 

The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) – which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) – regretted the launching of a judicial investigation. The PSC leader, Miquel Iceta, hoped the Catalan President “will not be damaged” by the process or “for having defended political ideas and a citizen participation process”. Iceta insisted that political problems should not be solved through penal mechanisms. In the same vein, the Catalan green socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA spoke regretfully of what they called the “judicialisation of politics” and made it clear that they considered the prosecution of Mas, Ortega and Rigau to be “a great mistake”.

In contrast to this, the conservative People’s Party (PP), which currently runs the Spanish Government, said that the criminal complaints and the judicial investigation are “the natural consequences” of not respecting “the norms of the Rule of Law”. In addition, the PP’s Spokesperson, Enric Millo, criticised the ANC’s solidarity campaign, claiming that “it only creates more agitation”. Furthermore, the populist and anti-Catalan nationalism party Ciutadans (C’s) stated that the queues of citizens in front of the Supreme Court to plead guilty are “a masquerade” and “a mockery”. The Spokesperson for the C’s, Carina Mejías, added that the criminal complaints and the judicial investigation are the “logical consequence” after November’s vote.

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