I am a political prisoner, held hostage by Spain

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By Jordi Cuixart (for the National)

For a year now, I am locked up in a cell and I look at the sky through bars. For a year now, I have seen my 18-month-old son just a few hours per month. For a year now, I have no cellphone or internet access. For a year now, I follow what is happening in my company from afar. For a year now, I am held without bail and without even a trial date for having defended fundamental rights in any democracy, such as the freedom of speech and the freedom to meet and protest. For a year now, I am a political prisoner, a hostage held by the Spanish government.

If Spain is a democracy, how is this possible? How can there be political prisoners if the Franco dictatorship supposedly ended more than 40 years ago?

There is no simple answer. Spain has an enormous political problem with Catalonia, yet it is incapable of facing it in the only way possible in modern democracies, which is with a political solution. Instead they are trying to resolve it with police and judges, without realising that this only worsens the problem.

If 80% of any people say they want to vote on their political future in a referendum, as is the case in Catalonia, you can’t really pretend that you aren’t hearing this call.

When Canada and the UK heard such a call they decided to negotiate referendums with Quebec and Scotland.

When more than two million Catalans turn out to vote, as happened on October 1 last year, you don’t send in Spanish police to beat up peaceful citizens. And if you want to be considered a country with rule of law you can’t send innocent people to jail or into exile, as is happening now in Spain.

When I was arrested a year ago they accused me of sedition for climbing on top of a Spanish police car (with the permission of those policemen) claiming that I had done so to incite a siege and violence by the very peaceful protesters I was attempting to disperse in Barcelona.

When videos surfaced of that day showing that I was asking the peaceful protesters to go home, the Spanish government switched the charges from sedition to rebellion. Now I am accused of inciting people to participate in the October 1 referendum and urging them to block the Spanish police as they violently went into polling stations to stop the vote.

Both charges are false and without a shred of proof. It is a farce. When my trial begins it will be very difficult to sustain the current charge of rebellion, and if I am convicted we will appeal to the European Union’s justice system.

Spain has already seen that neither Germany nor Scotland nor Belgium have granted their European Arrest Warrant petitions to extradite elected members of the Catalan government who fled seeking protection from similar charges, because their judges already saw that the charges were baseless under Spanish law.

Is Spain the only country that doesn’t want to see that the only violence committed in Catalonia was that of their own policemen beating peaceful voters across Catalonia, something that was shown on TV and the front pages of newspapers around the world? Is it so hard to understand that ballots and ballot boxes are not dangerous weapons in a democracy?

Spain embarked down a dangerous path some years ago: One of increasingly cutting back individual and collective human rights to the point where they have now reached intolerable limits. The EU is focusing on Poland and Hungary in this regard but would do well to look with a more critical eye to Spain’s growing democracy deficit too.

For some time now it is not just pro-independence Catalans who are prosecuted for exercising their basic rights, as Spain has shut down websites and newspapers and even convicted singers and puppeteers for their artistic efforts.

The “Catalonia crisis” has too long been at an impasse. It is an urgent political problem in need of a political solution. There are seven pro-independence leaders who have gone into exile, including Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, and nine of us are imprisoned, held without bail or trial.

Foreign politicians of all political stripes, Nobel Peace Prize winners, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all criticised the situation, calling for negotiations and for us to be released.

Since no progress seems possible with the Spanish government, perhaps it is time for international mediation where the EU itself or a European government plays a role.

It just isn’t right in 21st century Spain, or anywhere in Europe, that there are political prisoners like me.

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