State Repression and Police Intimidation in Catalonia

On Monday morning nine pro-independence activists in Catalonia were arrested in a swoop by the Spanish Guardia Civil.  They are charged with ‘rebellion’ and ‘sedition’, the same offenses that the 12 Catalan political prisoners are currently accused of.

The operation was conducted under the instruction of the Audiencia Nacional, the Spanish central court that deals with ‘offences against the Crown’ and ‘terrorism’. Two have now been released, but seven remain in custody in Madrid where they will be held incommunicado and brought before judges this week.

The Guardia Civil have said openly that the arrests targeted local groups working under the name Committees for the Defence of the Republic. Those groups came directly from the non-violent grassroots community organisation that was established to organise the referendum on the 1st October 2017 and since then has focused its protests on the political prisoners.  It looks very much like this police operation has been timed as a prelude to the verdicts of the 12 political prisoners who face sentences of up to 24 years for their involvement in the 2017 referendum.  A statement from the Catalan government asserted, “Repression remains the only answer from the Spanish state. They are trying to build again a narrative of violence before the rulings.  Those verdicts are due in the next few weeks.”

The arrests have allowed the Spanish state to heighten political tensions and to raise speculation around a threat of Catalan ‘terrorism’.  At the same time as the arrests, the Guardia Civil raided a warehouse storing fireworks that were used for the fiesta in Sabadell last week, and announced that they had been investigating “explosive material.”  They then announced seized documents, computers and materials that could be used to make explosive devices.  Yet the groups involved have been involved in non-violent protest.

Supporters of the accused argued that this was a bizarre strategy that sought to frame the activists and pointed out that the fabrication of evidence is a tactic that the Spanish state has used regularly to send a message to opponents of the government and neutralise protests against the sentences of the political prisoners. Last year, charges against two pro—independence activists Tamara Carrasco and Adrià Carrasco were later reduced to public disorder.  A whole succession of trumped up charges against pro-independence activists, including the bizarre accusation of “hate crimes against the police” have been heard in court and then dropped later.  This is how the courts are used in Spain now: to intimidate and to provoke fear and suspicion.

The prelude to the verdict on the political prisoners in Catalonia has been characterised by a rule of law based on hearsay and conjecture.  Last week, 47 lawyers, doctors, psychologists and left political activists from the Basque Country were forced into a plea bargain that saw twenty year sentences for terrorism reduced to two years in the Audiencia Nacional, the same court that ordered the arrests of the Catalan activists.  They had been accused of membership of Eta, yet all of the activities they were accused of came after the ceasefire of 2011. Some of the convicted were lawyers who had been arrested while defending their clients in court.

It is not surprising that they were forced into a plea bargain.  The Audiencia Nacional has a dubious reputation in Spain for it highly politicised judgments. This is the court responsible for initiating the prosecution of the Catalan political prisoners before their cases were passed to the Supreme Court for trial.  In the sense that it is designed to represent the political establishment, the court inherited the mantle of Franco’s notorious Public Order Tribunal. The court explicitly deals with issues of conflict deemed to be ‘political’.  The Audiencia Nacional has been condemned frequently in the European Court of Human Rights for a string of wrongful imprisonment cases and miscarriages of justice. It has, for example, convicted a group of activists who burned pictures of the Spanish king; and notoriously it was responsible for the false conviction of eleven Pakistani men who spent six years in prison for terrorism before they were finally released.  The court sanctioned four police operations against anarchist groups between 2014 and 2015 with more than sixty people arrested accused of terrorism.  Those cases ended with no convictions.

The lawyer Benet Salellas who is the lawyer acting for Jordi Cuixart, one of the Catalan political prisoners, told us, “We continue to defend the presumed innocence of the nine arrested because we believe that the central judicial institutions do not act with neutrality and objectivity, but are acting for  the interests of a political project and discourse”

Monday’s arrests have all the hallmarks of a miscarriage of justice, created to shape public opinion in the prelude to the impending verdict on the trial of the Catalan political prisoners.  It represents a profound attack on democracy and the right to protest.   Civil liberties campaigners and human rights lawyers are questioning how Spain can be held accountable for a level of political repression that is escalating as the European Union and its member governments watch in silence?


Building a New Catalonia: Self-determination and Emancipation with Ignasi Bernat, Liz Castro, Robert Knox and David Whyte

Friday October 25 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm £1 – £5 Book tickets here.

Edited by Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte, two experts on the Catalan struggle for independence, Building A New Catalonia brings together the leading voices of the Catalonian left independence movement alongside key figures in the international solidarity movement.

The essays highlight the political strategies and aspirations of the anti-capitalist, feminist and socialist movement for self-determination in Catalonia.

The contributors to this book include some of the best known leaders of the left independence movement in Catalonia. It includes chapters by Catalan political leaders including Jordi Cuixart (currently in jail awaiting trial for sedition), Liz Castro and David Fernandez, and prominent international contributors including journalist Paul Mason and economist Costas Lapavitsas.

Some of the authors have risked criminalisation for their actions and their words. Some have been exiled or imprisoned for their political activities and views. At the same time, this book represents a remarkable statement of hope and determination to build a fairer, more equal and just society; a society in which people can enjoy true sovereignty and autonomy over their daily lives.

Liz Castro is an author and translator. She is the former Chair of the International Committee of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and is a contributor to Building a New Catalonia..

Ignasi Bernat is a sociologist and activist based in Barcelona. He has been lecturer at University of Girona and University of Surrey and the editor of Building a New Catalonia.

David Whyte is Professor of Socio-legal Studies at the University of Liverpool and the editor of Building a New Catalonia.

Rob Knox is a Lecturer in Law at the School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool. Member of the Historical Materialism editorial board.

Book tickets here.

Buy the book here.

Comments (23)

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  1. Marga says:

    Thanks so much for this timely and accurate article about the difficult situation in Catalonia.

    Scots might be well advised to keep a cautious eye on the EU and not take anything for granted. The EU is going through difficult times, and is currently avoiding and trying to whitewash some rather ugly challenges to core values and expectations, so Scotland’s interests may find themselves sidelined. One article that may be of interest:, on the Rule of Law Crisis in the
    New Member States of the EU (but not just the new states, as the UK is currently experiencing).

    1. Derek Henry says:

      Surely it is time to realise what the EU has morphed into ?

      It is neoliberal central and left its left wing roots behind 30 years ago.

    2. Tiptoe says:

      They are charged with ‘rebellion’ and ‘sedition’, the same offenses that the 12 Catalan political prisoners are currently accused of.”
      This is written on the first paragraph and it is untrue. It does not make me feel like reading the rest…

  2. jacbob says:

    Well, it seems a few of the detained activists have recognized that they wanted to use explosives (goma-2) to destroy infrasctructure targets.

    You try to do that in my country (US) you go away for a long tiem to Guantanamo. You gusy are lucky you are in Spain 😉

  3. Sherman Hesselgrave says:

    What is the most helpful way for those of us who live outside Spain to offer resistance to this madness?

  4. Derek Henry says:


    Yet they do not want to leave the Euro or the stability and growth pact, the excessive debt proceedure, the 2 pack, 6 pack and the corrective arm. In short the neoliberal
    fiscal rules.

    All of which is causing the problems and only helps the elites and bankers in these nations. The brexit referendum was an IQ test and Scotland failed it big time and by majority want to be at the heart of this mess.

    Madness !

    The EU neoliberal globalists empire reminds me of the Sith in star wars. I crossed the border between South and North Cyprus over the weekend and I swear I heard the star wars theme tune as I crossed the border.

  5. Me says:

    Uhmm… break the law you suffer the consequences. Democracy is a set of rules and regulations for all. If you wilfully break it or just ignore it then it’s not democracy, its anarchy. Stop trying to feed cow shit and call it steak. Furthermore, a few years back I heard some politician comparing themselves to Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement. Well…..1your not a different race and you have not been treated inhumanely. 2 the civil rights movement was to obtain EQUAL rights, not more privileges. Honestly, I would have more respect if you just say you want to have independence instead of chucking huge amounts of shit hoping some will stick. Your not Rosa Parks, you are Trump whining about everything and then dismiss those institutions that dont agree with you….you know……all of Europe and America.

    1. “a few years back I heard some politician comparing themselves to Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement”. Er, who? When? What are you talking about?

      The defense of judicial and police brutality is shameless.

  6. Douglas says:

    What do people think the EU is, the Samaritans?

    And what do people think the State is? A force for good always? Any State, Spanish, British, any State is interested in crushing any force which acts outside the law or otherwise defies it. The main purpose of the State is to perpetuate the State and ensure its hegemony over society. That overrides everything else.

    When Spain joined the EU in 1986, the Spanish State had already sent death squads to Euskadi and the French Basque Country to murder and disappear ETA operatives and other leading figures of ETA’s political wing and their associates. These death squads screwed up and abducted some poor innocent guy called Segundo Marey, a French Basque, who was, so to speak, just minding his own business, when he was abducted. He had nothing to do with ETA or Basque independence

    The former Spanish Minister of the Interior under Felipe Gonzalez’s PSOE govt, Jose Barrionuevo, and his number two, Rafael Vera, were both tried, found guilty and imprisoned for that kidnapping by the Spanish Courts. Did the GAL’s activities (the Spanish State mercenary death squads) stop Spain joining the EU?

    No, of course not. But nor is the EU responsible for the illegal behaviour of the Spanish State in Euskadi in any shape or form.

    When Britain joined the EU in 1976, the British army had already murdered dozens and dozens of unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland, most notoriously, on Bloody Sunday, which is merely the tip of a very big iceberg. Over 150 unarmed civilians were killed by British soldiers during the Troubles, an absolutely appalling figure, and nobody has ever gone to prison or even been tried as far as I know. Additionally, the Brits colluded with Unionists paramilitaries like the UVF on a daily basis. Again, I don’t recall anybody calling for the EU to do or say anything about the British State killing and maiming civilians in Ireland.

    In Germany, the two leading members of the Badhar-Meinhoff (Red Army) faction were liquidated in the space of 24 hours, one mysteriously committing suicide in her prison cell. Almost certainly murdered by the German State. The French secret service under Mitterand blew up the Greenpeace Boat, the Rainbow Warrior, killing photo- journalist Fernando Pereira, French black-ops. In Italy, the overlap between the State and the Mafia back in the 70’s and 80’s was so great that they were arguably one and the same thing… I could go on…

    So the Spanish State is playing dirty in Catalonia? Wow, what a surprise!

    Carles Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras are both 100% clued up on what the Spanish State has done in Euskadi, they know the form. They both know that there are ultra Spanish nationalist / Francoist elements in the judiciary and the security services in Spain, not to mention the press and Spain’s political class and that, if you go down a non-Constitutional route – which is not the same thing as terrorism of course, it is merely unconstitutional politics and entirely different in kind – then those forces in the Spanish State apparatus will take things as far as they can… they’ll bug your phone, they’ll spy on you and they’ll frame you, of course. What a shock!!!

    The leaders of the Catalan independence movement knew exactly what they were doing when they drafted legislation “disconnecting” Catalonia from Spain and half the Catalan Parlament walked out in protest, and even some clerks of the Parlament resigned because they knew what they were doing was against the law.

    So the only conclusion that I can draw is that Puigdemont and Junqueras and other leaders of the Catalan independence movement knew full well that this over reaction by the Spanish State was going to happen and they calculated that it would help the cause of Catalan independence….. it is highly reckless politics.

    Finally, if you look at head on collisions between the State and other actors such as a peaceful and democratic independence movement like the Catalans or Greenpeace, or a terrorist outfits or revolutionary ones, in post WWII Europe, the State wins on every single occasion… the only time the State loses is when it dissolves itself such as the case of the Soviet Union.

    If I were a Catalan independentista, I would be furious with the leaders of the Catalan Independence movement who, gullible fools, believed the EU was going to stand up and save them. They had the attention and sympathy of most of Europe’s democrats when demanding a referendum. They overplayed their hand, lost their patience, and became reckless.

    Name me , anybody who can, just one occasion, when the EU has stepped in to the affairs of a member country? The EU is not designed, and does not have the power to sort out affairs in member countries…. that is not what it is designed to do….

    In Italy, we know the mafia basically so close to the Italian State, it kind of was the Italian State.

    1. Derek Henry says:

      I can give you a million examples.

      Let’s ignore Greece the obvious one. I cannot believe you do not understand what the EU did in Greece remarkable when you think about it that today you fail to recognise what the EU and the ECB did.

      How about Portugal ?

    2. Derek Henry says:

      It is still going on in Greece.

      They will not be finished in Greece until they own everything.

      You need to wake up Douglas and wake up quick.

      I do talks in Germany and even the SPD are finally starting to get it with the help from MMT economists. Scotland seems the only place that cannot seem to grasp what the EU are doing.

    3. Hi Douglas – agreed state violence is no surprise, Spanish state violence even less so. Not sure that means it shouldn’t be protested against though?

      1. Douglas says:

        I agree Bella, and I think David and Ignasi are right to draw attention to it, though the details of the arrests in Catalonia I know nothing about. But it wouldn’t surprise me if there are a few young incensed Catalans planning on planting incendiary devices of some sort because that is the kind of thing which happens when governments ignore the law and the State jails democratically elected politicians, for two years, without being found guilty of anything. The democratic channels are blocked up and conflict spills over into society…

        That’s how ETA started by the way back in the 50’s, their campaign started with a few incendiary devices, and painting slogans on walls. The murders came many years later., but once these things start, they’re very hard to stop and the hard men take over.

        The Basque thing the other day Ignasi and David mention was just shameful as were the charges of terrorist offences against the eight young men from the Basque town of Alsasua who got into a fight with a couple of off duty Guardia Civil in a bar and were processed on terrorist charges… it’s incredible… but it’s Spain.

        There is no question that the Spanish State has deeply reactionary and even fascistic elements in it when it comes to the Basque Country and now Catalonia. It’s the legacy of a Transition negotiated under the barrel of a gun….the period of 1975-1982 – which are the dates of the Transicion – were extremely tense and there were at least two aborted coups and then the one which failed, known as the 23F.

        The only reason the Spanish military went along with democracy was because Franco, a soldier first and foremost, had specifically ordered the military to obey Juan Carlos, the King, and his heir… if he hadn’t done that, there would have been a coup in 1977 or so and the entire political class of the Transicion would have been shot or imprisoned or exiled again. In 1977, 1978, right up to 1982, people were terrified of the Spanish military, and with very good reason. There were maybe 20 military coups between the mid 19th century and the restoration of democracy in 1978. And they exported the model to South American obviously: the soldier politician…

        Which is why I don’t understand why Puigdemont and Junqueras chose to go down the route of UDI on less than half the popular vote. It’s madness. It could never work on its own terms. It’s based on the ideas of Romantic 19th century Nationalism, as is all this bullshit about emancipation. The Catalans aren’t “oppressed”, at least not enough to be “emancipated”, which is a term specifically from the 19th century when national liberation movements and fundamental democratic rights went together, and were won in the same revolutionary process…. the Catalans have exactly the same rights as any other Spaniard does…. but it doesn’t include the right to self-determination.

        You need to reform Spain. How do you reform Spain and the Constitution? Well, no party can expect to govern Spain without Catalonia and the Basque Country, they are the key to governing Spain., especially Catalunya, which is worth almost 50 seats. So they have a lot of power in Spain.

        Remarkably, as far as I know, Basque nationalists and Catalan nationalists have never actually joined forces in a united front to reform the Spanish Constitution. Mainly because of ETA I guess, but ETA have now disbanded.

        You know, with the Spanish State in crisis, the main parties discredited, the monarchy questioned like never before, the mass and endemic corruption, the advent of Podemos and the like-minded groups, I would have thought there was a strong social base across Spain with the Catalans and the Basques and progressive Spain to reform the Constitution. Not a majority yet, but a big and wide and solid base…

        But they chose UDI and the international route, and as I said before, there is not a single instance of the EU interfering in a Member State’s affairs. The EU can block entry into the EU, there they have some influence. But they have never sanctioned a member State, though maybe they just did with the Poles, I’m not sure…

        1. Derek Henry says:

          “There is not one example of the EU interfering in a member state affairs”

          First of all, once they suck you in they control both your fiscal and monetary policies. In short they own you. A nation state has been turned into a neoliberal zombie.

          What on earth is the stability and growth pact and excessive debt procedure if it is not interfering. It is like you giving everything you own to your neighbour and if you want pocket money or decorate the house you have to get all 27 people who live in the street to agree.

        2. Derek Henry says:

          Of course what we are seeing now is coming to a head from what started years ago.

          However, the Catalans just like the SNP fail to grasp the real issues.

          That is using the Euro you can’t break free.

  7. Sarah Behr says:

    I live in Catalonia. This article is “false news” in that the people of Catalonia are not repressed by the government of Madrid. Only those who break the Law are brought to account, the rest of us live peacefully as do those living in the rest of Spain.

  8. Pep says:

    I think if you write a million times “political prisoners”, imprisoned politicians magically morphed into political prisoners.

    1. This is just gibberish. Try and face the fact and address the appalling record of the state police in Spain, much of which has been recorded on film you’ve probably watched. Thanks.

      1. Leo says:

        This article is totally false they were arrested for terrorism. Two of them have admitted they were making bombs.

        I live in Barcelona the people here are not opressed at all in fact the president of Catalunya earns more than the president of Spain. Schools are taught in catalan, people speak catalan freely.

        I agree that for the illegal referendum the spanish police went too far in some locations but there was also violence from indepence supporters in others. One wrong does not make a right but to just push one side as the bad party is not entirely accurate.

        Those pushing the idea of political prisoners are also not being honest, they were arrested for breaking the constitution which obviously is illegal not for their political beliefs. I don’t like that they have been in prison for almost two years now whilst awaiting sentence, however I also understand the spanish judiciary being reluctant to bail them after Puigdemont and others fled the country.

        All in all no side is blameless but what is happening here is a small part of society trying to push their own agenda. Those thinking independence politicians have not benefitted financially in some way from the independence movement whilst completely neglecting their duties in the day to day running of local government I feel need to look deeper into the motivations of the independence politicians.

  9. Maria A. says:

    Este artículo no es objetivo.
    Los 7 detenidos estaban siendo investigados desde hace más de un año.
    Se describe la Audiencia Nacional como un mal tribunal y es el mismo tribunal que juzgo a los terroristas de Eta, con fuertes condenas.

    Los políticos presos lo están porque hace dos años aprobaron unas leyes que dejaban sin derechos a los catalanes, dejándolos fuera del estado español. También suprimian la separación de poderes ejecutivo y legislativo ya que el presidente de la Generalitat de Catalunya podia nombrar a los jueces, que además serían afines al independentismo.

    El 1 de octubre no votaron más de la mitad de los catalanes porque era un referèndum ilegal.

    Su artículo no retrata la realidad en Cataluña.

  10. Derek Henry says:

    One of the best economists the UK ever produced was Wynne Godley.

    When Thatcher came to power she shut down the economics department at Cambridge. Remember the “Cambridge controversy” if not read up on it as the UK under Thatcher turned to supply side monetarism.

    The UK tried Milton Friedman theory that the central bank could control the money supply. It failed the BOE could not control it. Yet decades later they still push on a bit of string pretending that they can.

    In 1992 Godley predicted what would happen if the Euro was introduced. MMT economists have been saying the same things ever since. His paper Maastricht and all that still holds true today.

    Scotland wants to break free because the rest of the UK should not determine Scotland’s fiscal or monetary policies. The independence movement gets that.

    However, once you explain that being at the heart of the EU means exactly that for member states but instead of London deciding it would be Brussels the Indy movement bury their heads in the sand and stick their arses in the air.

    1. Derek Henry says:

      What is happening in Catalonia is all down to the Euro.

      Yet, they want to keep it.

      Madness !

  11. Douglas says:


    Here is the wikipedia entrance on “emancipation”.

    “Emancipation is any effort to procure economic and social rights, political rights or equality, often for a specifically disenfranchised group, or more generally, in discussion of such matters. Emancipation stems from ēx manus capere (‘detach from the hand’). Among others, Karl Marx discussed political emancipation in his 1844 essay “On the Jewish Question”, although often in addition to (or in contrast with) the term human emancipation. Marx’s views of political emancipation in this work were summarized by one writer as entailing “equal status of individual citizens in relation to the state, equality before the law, regardless of religion, property, or other ‘private’ characteristics of individual people.”[1] “Political emancipation” as a phrase is less common in modern usage, especially outside academic, foreign or activist contexts. However, similar concepts may be referred to by other terms. For instance, in the United States the Civil Rights Movement culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 can be seen as further realization of events such as the Emancipation Proclamation and abolition of slavery a century earlier. In the current and former British West Indies islands the holiday Emancipation Day is celebrated to mark the end of the Atlantic slave trade.”

    I mean, my issue with David Whyte and Ignasi Bernat is that they continue to talk about the “emancipation” of the Catalans, with all the connotations that word has.

    The Jews were emancipated by Napoleon in France, Afro-American slaves in the USA were emancipated when slavery was abolished…

    How can anybody talk about the “emancipation of the Catalans” and expect to be taken seriously?

    It’s risible, and in these politically correct times, possibly even offensive to some people, I mean, to use the same word to talk about the citizens of Barcelona and Girona as the slaves on slave plantations in 19th century America, or Jews with no equal rights in 19th century Europe, is really very poor form and pretty insensitive…

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