Long-term resident

Theatre of cruelty

Every Catalan knows we’re in for a rough ride in October. There’ll be the anniversary of the October 1 2017 referendum, in which large numbers of peaceful voters were punched and battered by Spanish police especially imported for the occasion; and above all, there will be the sentencing of the political prisoners, some of whom have been in preventive custody for nearly two years, despite calls from the UN, AI and HRW to release them. The sentences are expected to range between 10 and 12 years, the principle charges being violent rebellion and sedition for having helped organise or promote a referendum on independence (although there was no violence on any of the pro-indy demonstrations or the referendum day itself — except that generated by the forces of law and order). This October, then, we can expect protests and strikes, and so forth. But with their usual flair for amateur theatrics, the Spanish authorities have actually succeeded in provoking dozens of protests around Catalonia before October. They achieved this by arresting nine people in three different locations on September 23, notably Sabadell. The people concerned belonged to their local Republican Defence Committees (CDRs, in their Catalan acronym). They have been accused of belonging to a ’Catalan separatist terrorist group’ and charged with violent rebellion and possession of explosives.

Before we move on, a word in your ear about the CDRs. They are spontaneously organised, non-hierarchical, politically diverse groups of citizens who use non-violent means to protest against the heavy-handed authoritarianism of the Spanish authorities in Catalonia on the one hand, and to defend the idea of an independent Catalan republic, on the other. Their most radical actions have involved the blocking of roads and train lines, but mostly they do things like tying yellow ribbons wherever they can, spraying graffiti, or standing on bridges in yellow hats holding banners. They do not allow their members to wear masks. Many of them are in middle to old age.

The arrests themselves, perpetrated by the Guardia Civil, consisted in the knocking down of doors of flats that the inhabitants would have opened had anyone thought of ringing the bell. The flats were then ’searched’ (one of them — the footage is on vilaweb.cat — was left looking as if it had been trashed by vengeful, booze-fuelled football hooligans whose team had just lost). On the same day, a mysterious video was broadcast by the Guardia Civil showing their masked paramilitaries stalking through an unidentified cellar aiming sub-machine guns from the hip and then discovering a blue rubbish bag that contained what looked like crushed dog food. Two of the nine detainees were released on the same day. Despite the seriousness of the charges, Spain’s antiterrorist law was not applied to any of the rest, no explosive materials were located, and no ’targets’ of any supposed terrorist activities have been named (and, of course, no terrorist attacks have taken place). Despite which, the seven have been held incommunicado, have been imprisoned in Madrid without bail, and two of them were interrogated for six solid hours — without their own lawyers present (this is illegal) — until they admitted that in certain circumstances they might resort to violence (name me anyone who wouldn’t). In a nutshell: given that the Catalan pro-independence movement is non-violent, this is the umpteenth attempt by Madrid to invent a narrative in which the Catalans are comparable to ETA or worse. A narrative, as always, scripted by functionaries who couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag.

Meanwhile, in Barcelona, on September 25, containers labelled ’TNT’ and ’Ammonal’ were placed at the doors of the HQs of three pro-independence parties and two pro-independence civil organisations. The Catalan police’s bomb disposal experts revealed them to be harmless. But one thing is for sure: if it’s ever discovered who placed these unsubtle threats, they won’t be barred from seeing their lawyers, won’t be jailed without bail, and won’t be accused of belonging to a ’Spanish unionist terrorist group’.

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