That totalitarian regimes do not like dissent may seem an understatement. Take Daniel Ortega and his extended family’s brutal rule over Nicaraguans. Just recently, ending 2023, the country’s police accused Karen Celebertti, organiser of the local franchise of Miss Universe to non-other than terrorism. The real reason had been the crowds throughout the country celebrating the recent coronation of Sheynnis Palacios, a compatriot with open sympathies to the opposition. Ms Celebertti’s husband and son were arrested, while she was outlawed from her country.

Such abuse is expected in places such as Russia, the Arab world, or in China. It is being well reported how Beijing is subduing Hong Kong’s democratic stance, in a slow but relentless course, more notable since the Umbrella movement of 2014. Within this context, also late in 2023, a media tycoon, Jimmy Lai, was held in court after three years of detention, accused of colluding with foreign forces, after articles appeared in his popular tabloid Apple Daily. Mr Lai, who was already sentenced to almost six years in jail for fraud in 2022 – a verdict denounced by human-rights groups – may now face a life behind bars.

One regards the West as being free from lawfare, with no few instances by which citizens have been granted protection: prosecutors targetting real crimes, a judiciary insulated from political pressure, a free media eager to denounce oppression, or a parliament that cares that the democratic game is alive and kicking. Regrettably, as recently denounced in this column by Mr Freixenet, in one “western” country these levers melt; at least when those facing the law are Catalan independence supporters (an “Easy to Identify Group”, denomination used by the Court of Justice of the EU).

In a recent publication, Messrs. Ros and Llucià, from “Maspons i Anglesells” (an association that seeks to recover Catalan civic law, one of the oldest in Europe) has exposed the lawfare in the case of Ms Laura Borràs, president of Catalonia’s Parliament, and convicted of mismanagement of public funds in March 2023. As with other pro-independence figures, before the formal trial Ms Borràs was publicly condemned by the media and political parties, both looking for fresh blood. In what turned into a de facto public trial that lasted for months, a narrative was built towards only one possible verdict, guilty.

Experts reported how Ms Borràs had always acted within public procurement law, that works were awarded according to the then valid legislation, that no one from the administration’s side took any illicit money, and, finally, that the works were real and followed the tender’s requirements - easy to attest to as they are public websites. This notwithstanding, Ms Borràs was sentenced to 4.5 years of prison, and 13 years’ disqualification from public office - curiously (or not) the same sentence as the organisers of the Catalan independence referendum of October 1, 2017. Intriguingly, the same tribunal (the Catalonia’s Tribunal of Justice), considering the sentence inflated, proposed a partial pardon to shorten it to below two years to avoid prison. But the goal of the case was met: that of barring her from public office.

Mr Damià del Clot has dedicated a book to the matter: “The strategy of repression against the Catalan independence movement”, in which he writes that “Franco already used the law to annihilate political dissidence... Today lawfare is a strategy that requires the complicity of the administration, the media, as well as the judiciary and, above all, the so-called deep state. This is only possible by using the penal code from a friend-enemy perspective”.

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