16 arrested in Catalonia in relation to pro-independence protests

Throughout yesterday the Spanish National Police made 16 arrests in relation to the blocking of the high-speed railway line in Girona on 1 October, 2018, the first anniversary of the Catalan referendum

Amongst those arrested for alleged public order offences were the mayors of Verges and Celrà, Ignasi Sabater and Dani Cornellà, both of the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), the photojournalist, Carles Palacio, the nephew of Catalan president, Quim Torra, who is a CUP member, and members of activist groups, the CDRs (Committees for the Defence of the Republic) and La Forja, and students’ union, SEPC. Police were unable to arrest one woman who has taken refuge in Girona University and will remain there indefinitely. The level of support for the operation offered by the Catalan judicial police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, is as yet unclear.

The arrests were made without court orders by plainclothes police in hoods and neck gaiters. Those detained complained that the arresting officers failed to identify themselves, showed no arrest warrants and bundled them into unmarked cars. The arrests were not preceded by summonses. It must have been terrifying, like being kidnapped.

The mayor of Verges, Ignasi Sabater, was injured during his arrest and his lawyer, Benet Salellas, was denied entry to Girona National Police station for speaking in Catalan, which is still a common occurrence in Catalonia. The photojournalist, Carles Palacio, had been covering the blocking of the railway line in a professional capacity and was wearing his press armband.

Catalan political parties – JxCAT, ERC, CUP and En Comú-Podem – walked out of parliamentary committees in protest at the arrests, at which the Ciudadanos spokesperson called them “workshy” and PSC complained of a “day of paralysis”. Protests were held around Catalonia in front of National Police stations and town councils.

Today, the Catalan government will make an offical complaint about what they see as “illegal detentions” and the Catalan government spokesperson, Elsa Artadi, will meet the Spanish deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, in Madrid to clarify whether or not the Spanish government had any knowledge of the operation and whether or not the Spanish National Police were acting under instruction from a judge. Yesterday, the Catalan High Court stated that the Spanish National Police had acted independently of the judiciary.

Today, however, the Spanish Interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, has contradicted the TSJC’s statement and claimed that the operation was directed and coordinated by a public prosecutor and a judge. He added that the Spanish National Police were acting as judicial police. It is as yet unclear, which court, if any, instructed the arrests and whose version of events is false. What is abundantly clear, though, is that the National Police offensive in the Catalan province of Girona was conducted in a highly irregular manner and has put the Spanish government in a very difficult position. To any outsider it might seem that the Spanish government is not in charge at all.

When PSOE came to power in June of last year after the success of their no-confidence motion in Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party, Pedro Sánchez vowed that there would be no further detentions in relation to the pro-independence movement and that the controversial Public Safety Protection Law, or “gag law” as it is more popularly known, would be repealed. Neither promise has been fulfilled and pro-independence activists face severe penalties if convicted of offences related to unauthorised protests.

The hundreds of arrests effected by Spanish State agencies over the past sixteen months have been designed to repress the basic freedoms of expression, assembly and protest, and criminalise independentism. With the trial of the 2017 Catalan government and civil leaders due to start in a fortnight’s time – Europe’s trial of the century, a political trial, a trial more typical of a 20th century military dictatorship – was this operation intended to encourage or discourage the mobilisation of independentists and critics of Spanish legal abuse?

The international press has been silent over this latest wave of repression and its highly irregular nature. Will it remain equally dumb when the show trials get underway? The repression of Catalan independentism is curiously taboo for the foreign correspondents.

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