October 17, 2017
Catalan separatism has its martyrs
Shock news that couldn't shock anyone at this point in the escalation of the Catalan crisis: a Spanish judge has jailed on sedition charges, pre-emptively and without bail, the heads of the two major Catalan separatist grass-roots organisations: Jordi Sánchez of the Catalan National Assembly ANC, and Jordi Cuixart of Ómnium Cultural. That this didn't come as a surprise to anyone is underscored by the fact that at least Cuixart had left a pre-recorded video to be released in just this eventuality - it's not obvious whether Sanchez' video was pre-recorded. This doesn't mean that the judge's decision doesn't come at an awkward time, or that it doesn't make the political situation even more tense and prone to accidents. The question of due process is one that we're certain will make it all the way to the European court of human rights years from now.
The timing couldn't be more awkward. As we reported yesterday Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont failed to respond with a simple yes/no answer to the question whether independence had been declared at the Catalan parliament on Tuesday last week, as the Spanish government had explicitly required. Mariano Rajoy responded with a reminder that the Catalan government has until Thursday at 10am to go back to the fold of the Spanish constitution, or else. At this point, the odds of Puigdemont backing down are nil. So, else it is. Next week the Spanish senate will debate and, in all likelihood, authorise the Spanish government to take as-yet unspecified measures to ensure the Catalan regional government complies with the constitution, under Article 155 of it. The only open question is whether Puigdemont will deign appear before the relevant Senate committee to make his government's case.
At the same time that the judge jailed the leaders of ANC and Ómnium, she refused the state prosecutor's request to jail the head of the Catalan police Josep Lluis Trapero and his deputy, also on sedition charges. Instead, she withheld their passports and set fortnightly court appearances.
The charges of sedition on which the two Jordis - as they are beginning to be called - were jailed are quite specific. They are not generically for organising separatist demonstrations, but for the demonstrations in front of Catalan government buildings on September 20 and 21, which hindered court-ordered searches in relation with the organisation of the October 1st independence vote that the Spanish constitutional court had previously voided. In what we called a watershed moment for the Catalan crisis at the time, sixteen Catalan government officials were arrested on the morning of September 20 in connection with the searches. Some of them were held for the 72 hours that the law allows. When the news of the arrests broke, the ANC and Ómnium called for people to gather around the government buildings. Superficially this meets the definition of sedition (Art 544) in Spain's criminal code (our translation):
"to rise publicly an tumultuously to prevent, by force or outside legal means, the application of the laws, or to prevent any authority, public institution or public servant the legitimate exercise of their function or the fulfillment of their agreements or of administrative or judicial decisions"
In a Politikon blog on this situation, Roger Senserrich writes that the charge of sedition could have easily been avoided by demonstrating a block away from the buildings being searched. A spontaneous gathering is at most an unauthorised demonstration which carries a simple fine. But yesterday's resolution by the judge highlights that the court official overseeing one of the searches had to leave the building disguised among the crowd. Also that at least on one occasion Ómnium sent a WhatsApp message calling on people to gatherings to "stop the Guardia Civil".
Senserrich predicts that the Spanish government will end up applying Art 155, which will be litigated for years all the way to the European courts. This is likely to include an attempt by a provisional regional administration to call snap regional elections. According to Vozpópuli, the Spanish government itself is not sure of the legality of this, and is afraid it might also be contested in the European courts. If the Spanish government cannot force early elections in Catalonia, the next elections are scheduled for the autumn of 2019. Senserrich expects new regional elections to return a substantially identical regional parliament, as none of this will change anyone's mind and Catalan voters are split down the middle.
The one prediction nobody dares to make - Senserrich included - is an actual violent outbreak. We share the wishful thinking that it won't come to that.