The case for Catalan fundamental rights: Berga Mayoress and people versus Spanish politicized law courts

 

(See the translation of the Speech below)

 

Introduction

The situation of the Catalan political prisoners and the lack of fundamental political and civil rights in Catalonia is nowadays well-known around the world, and has been denounced by important activists and intellectuals, as Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, and Jody Williams, among many others:

 

The case

Montserrat Venturós – Disobedience Award

Act of Disobedience

Montserrat Venturós, mayor of Berga, Catalonia, has disobeyed the Spanish government and courts at least twice. Firstly, when they ordered her to remove the Catalan flag from her town’s municipal building in 2015. She then refused to show up in Spanish court twice to face the charges. Secondly, as more than 700 other catalan Mayors, is under investigation by the Spanish General Attorney, being accused of cooperation in the organitzation of the Catalan Referendum on Independence.

These acts of disobedience were aimed to defend democracy in the face of politicized, authoritarian Spanish courts and tribunals.

 

Personal/Professional Risk

Mayoress Venturós was convicted of the crime of disobedience by a Spanish criminal court. She was disqualified from her position for 6 months. She had risked up to 2 years in prison if the court had given her the maximum sentence. For cooperating in the organisation of the Referendum she risked an unpredictable punishment, taking into account that the Catalan leaders in prison or exile for the organisation of this Referendum have charges of Rebellion that can imply prison sentences of 30 years or Disobedience, including a disqualification of 5 years.

 

Extended version

Montserrat Venturós, the Mayoress of Berga, a Catalan city between Barcelona (100 km) and the Pyrenees, is fighting for the rights of all the citizens of her town. A Spanish court has sentenced her to abandon her office and to a disqualification of six months because she refused to obey the order of removing a Catalanist flag (Estelada) from the town hall balcony, an order issued by a Spanish election board during two elections held in 2015. The majority of Berga councilors had voted for putting and keeping the flag in the balcony until Catalonia reaches self-government and independence, so in keeping the Estelada in place the Mayoress was defending a democratic agreement.

Because of this act of disobedience, Mrs. Venturós was summoned to appear before a court. She refused twice to appear before she was arrested and forced to testify. In first instance, the judge shelved the case because he didn’t regard disobedience as a crime, but the prosecutor managed to reopen the case. Before the judge, Mrs. Venturós didn’t defend herself, as everyone expected, but accused the judge of acting on behalf of political interests.

Her case must be understood in the context of the present conflict in Catalonia, where many citizens (that amount at least 80% the population) are struggling for the recognition of their right to self-determination, a right acknowledged in European international law but denied by the Spanish state. Almost half of the Catalan population are for independence. The Spanish state, instead of being in favor of dialogue and negotiation (opposed then to Canada with Quebec, or United Kingdom with Scotland), has launched an extremely aggressive assault on Catalan institutions and political and cultural leaders, that has resulted in nine people in jail without trial (seven of them members of Catalan Government, and two social leaders), eight exiles (five members of Catalan Government, the President among them, 2 Catalan MPs and one Catalan activist, member of the CDR), more than 700 mayors being investigated and all sort of civil servants and teachers placed under serious accusations, such as hate crimes. In her disobedience to Spanish courts, Mrs. Venturós, then, is not only representing Berga’s citizens, but also all Catalan democrats, both inside and outside jail or exile.

Mrs. Venturós was the first Catalan elected political representative to be summoned by Spanish courts for ideological reasons. After that, many other politicians have been persecuted, specially after the holding of a referendum on independence in Catalonia on 1 October 2017.

With her brave act of disobedience she constitutes an example to all the people who are fighting for democracy and freedom in Catalonia in the face of Spanish courts, politicians, police and army. The struggle in Catalonia is for democracy. Mrs. Venturós, then, is acting not only on behalf of all Catalan democrats, but also of those from Europe and the world.

 

Translation of the speech before the judge

Judge: If you wish to express something else I will allow you to take the floor.

Montserrat Venturós: I want to manifest, in the first place, that this is a show trial, with a prearranged sentence, that is a political sentence, directly determined by orders that we regard as political and that have been shifted to the judicial field.

I haven’t come here to speak up for myself nor to defend anything related to the Estelada put in the town hall balcony. I have come to oppose politically what I understand as a purely political trial, launched directly by the prosecution service, that requests the reopening of this case.

That’s why today I haven’t come here to speak up for myself, I’ve come to accuse directly the prosecution service of shifting purely political decisions to the judicial field, and therefore to be accomplice of everything that the Spanish Government and the extreme right and you with your complicit silence and your apology of indifference have managed at present: that Mayors, Mayoresses, councilors and members of Catalan Government are being tried.

But for this complicity and this silence, I could have with me today, here, many friends and colleagues that are in jail or being investigated.

Judge: I must issue a warning call, have due respect to this jury. You must restrict yourself to the facts of this case and because of which you are here, accused. I ask you that, in the exercise of your right, keep calm and respect, and focus on the subject of the present proceeding.

Montserrat Venturós: I’m focusing on the subject of the proceeding, considering that this is a political trial, and I invoke this neutrality before mentioned. […] develop according to the rights of the people who live in this country. And with this I finish. I do believe that the ones who should be sat here are many other people. Those who have dispossessed us as working class, those who dispossess us as members of a certain ideology. I wish to stress the break we want with the Spanish state and with this obsolete structure, that moreover involves the judicial field in a political manner, which is absolutely out of place according to the guidelines established in the section 124 of the Constitution. Thank you.

Images

Mayoress Venturós’ rejection of appearing before the judge

 

Many cultural and political Catalan leaders went to Berga to show their support for Mrs. Venturós’ decision of not appearing before the judge, because they regarded the court summons as an assault against fundamental rights and freedoms. Some of these leaders are now in jail without having had a trial: Jordi Cuixart (president of the cultural association Òmnium Cultural), Jordi Sànchez  (former president of the cultural association Assemblea Nacional Catalana), Carme Forcardell (former president of Catalan Parliament), and Jordi Turull (former member of Catalan Government), and some other leaders are in exile: Anna Gabriel (former member of Catalan Parliament).

Catalan Referendum on Independence held in Berga (1 October 2017)

 

As all the Catalan cities and villages, Berga held a referendum on independence on 1 October 2017. Spanish Government and police tried brutally to prevent the plebiscite. The results in Berga were: participation of 64,98 percent; for independence 95,86 percent; against independence 3,06 percent. The judicial prosecution of the Mayoress must be unterstood also in this light.

Documentary about the referendum on independence held in Catalonia on 1 October 2017. By La Directa.

 

See our post about the Catalan movement for democracy and freedom in the context of international nonviolence movements here.

Chronology

· 6 September 2012. As a result of a popular initiative, Berga municipal plenary votes to keep an independentist Catalan flag (“estelada”) in the balcony of the town hall until Catalan independence is reached.

· 24 May 2015. Municipal elections. Estelada is removed from the balcony at the request of an Electoral Comission, due to a petition of the unionist association Societat Civil Catalana.

· 24 September 2015. The Electoral Commission requests the removal of all the Esteladas from the public spaces with a view to the necessary neutrality that must prevail in the upcoming elections to the Catalan Parliament.

· 27 September 2015. Elections to the Catalan Parliament. Berga city council decides to keep the Estelada in the balcony in accordance with the motion approved in 2012, which is protected by the principles of municipal autonomy. The city council denounces the overall assault by State courts and judges against Catalan people, who are claiming their right of self-determination. On the same day, the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan autonomic police subordinated to the Spanish State) go to the city hall to take out the Estelada. At eight in the evening, when the election day is over, the flag is put back in the balcony.

· 20 December 2015. Elections to the Spanish Parliament. Once again, the same process takes place as on 27 September 2015. The Mossos d’Esquadra remove the Estelada at the request of the Electoral Commission.

· 11 February 2016. The Mayoress receives the first writ of summons that requests her to appear in court on 5 April 2016 as investigated in a case of an electoral offense.

· 15 February 2016. A second writ of summons to appear in Court on the same 5 April 2016 as investigated in a second case of electoral offense. There are two court cases, referring to 27 September and 20 December 2015.

· 5 April 2016. A clustering of people is called in front of the court to give support to the Mayoress at the time she must appear. The Mayoress decides not to take part in this show trial aimed to punish the people who are defending publicly and actively the right of self-determination in Catalonia.

· 17 October 2016. A third writ of summons under the threat that not appearing will lead to an arrest in order to enable the judicial declaration.

· 4 November 2016. At 7:25 in the morning, autonomic police arrest Berga Mayoress at her home. She is detained for more than 5 hours in judicial headquarters until she testifies before the judge. She is accompanied and supported by political representatives from across Catalonia, some of whom are at present in jail or exiled.

· 1 March 2017. First instance judgment declaring the case shelved because the judge doesn’t regard as a crime or offense the fact of not removing the Estelada.

· 19 May 2017. The Seventh Section of the Barcelona Provincial Court resumes the cause against Berga Mayoress at the request of the prosecutors.

· 1 October 2017. Self-determination referendum is held in Catalonia.

· 4 October 2017. The Mayoress doesn’t appear before Manresa court to testify about the conducting of the referendum and the means that the town hall offered to carry it out.

· 21 May 2018. Trial

· 21 June 2018. Guilty verdict against Berga Mayoress for not removing the Estelada from the town hall balcony on the two electoral days (in spite of the fact that the city hall isn’t an electoral office). The sentence includes:

* 3 months fine, at a daily fee of 6 € (6 $) plus the subsidiary liability in case of default, laid down in Section 53 of the criminal code.

* 6 months of special disqualification for the exercise of any public occupation or office.

* The costs of the procedure.

 

In addition to the Estelada case there are several investigations against the Mayoress by juries and courts:

* Judicial Investigation into the quotes paid to the Associació de Municipis per la Independència (Association of Villages for [Catalan] Independence)

* Investigation and order to place the Spanish flag in the town hall balcony.

* Investigation into the organization of the self-determination referendum in Catalonia on 1 October 2017.

* Investigation into the official opening of the city hall on 12 October and 6 December 2017, which are Spanish public holidays.

 

 

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