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May 7, 2015
May 7, 2015

Spain: “Going to jail is something that can happen to anyone”

Author: Hibai Arbide Aza Translator: Anna Papoutsi
Source: PlayGround  Category: Protest
This article is also available in: eles
Spain: “Going to jail is something that can happen to anyone”

Illustration via Satwik Gade

Interview with Ciro Morales, one of those convicted for surrounding the Parliament in June 2011; he was born in Jerez but has been living in Barcelona for more than a decade.

On June 15, 2011, the Occupy movement (15M) was already on its first month. That same day, the Catalan government led by Artur Mas had planned to present the general budget of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia (Generalitat de Catalunya); the budget included major cuts in health, education and social services. The Occupy movement called for the occupation of the Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona on June 14 and 15, ​​where the regional parliament is based. The slogan was “Stop the Parliament” (Aturem el Parlament).

The police stated unequivocally that the protest was to be allowed given that it wouldn’t prevent the opening of the chamber. They didn’t keep their word. Without any warning, they began to evict the camp at the gates of the Parc de la Ciutadella, and they used the same force for which they had become infamous during the attempted eviction of the Plaça Catalunya camp two weeks earlier.

The image of government officials arriving by helicopter was broadcasted by all the media. Then, a huge campaign of criminalisation was launched resulting, in October of that same year, in 21 arrests. They were demonstrators identified by the Catalan police in TV and social networks videos. Most of the arrests took place within the courts, when protesters appeared voluntarily before the judge.

In June 2014, the National Court (Audiencia Nacional) found the accused not guilty and stated that the protesters were merely exercising their freedom of expression. In April 2015, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict, following the appeals filed by the prosecution, the Government of Catalonia and the extreme-right association “Clean Hands”. Then the court issued a new sentence: three years in prison for 28 of the defendants.

The conviction

The verdict takes for granted the fact that “the MP of the ‘Socialist Party of Catalonia’ (Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya – PSC), D. Ernest Maragall i Mira, was forced to cross between a large group of demonstrators, who, with open hands and arms raised, were trying to prevent him from going in the Parliament. He was helped by two police officers, who escorted him to the police cordon. Among those around him chanting slogans was D. Ciro Morales Rodriguez, always at his back”.

This means, three years in prison for chanting slogans at the back of MP Ernest Maragall, then member of the PSC and today militant of the “Republican Left of Catalonia” (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya – ERC). No one has been convicted of assaulting the MPs; they have all been convicted of lifting their arms or chanting slogans.

The defence lawyers Gonzalo Boyé, Isabel Elbal and Jaume Asens, published a devastating article accusing the Supreme Court of violating the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: “We never expected that those acquitted would be condemned without a hearing because the European Court of Human Rights has warned over and over again that the revocation of an acquittal and the subsequent issuance of a guilty verdict without a hearing violates Article 6 [of the Convention]”

In order to convict the protesters, the judges have pulled out of their sleeve a concept that does not exist in our legislation; they have called it background intimidation –Asens explains. Acts that are not punishable when they occur in isolation become acts of violence. Shouting slogans, raising arms or walking along side an MP counts as violence and intimidation, according to this ambiguous concept”.

Are you surprised by this sentence?

Our lawyers had always told us that this would not happen, that it was unlikely. The National Court acquitted us, but the Supreme Court has condemned us without a retrial, which is something that the European Court has repeatedly told the Supreme and the Constitutional Court they cannot do. In this regard, it has taken all of us by surprise, including lawyers, such as Gonzalo Boyé, who have a lot of experience with the National Court.

You have been sentenced to three years in prison for chanting slogans. How can that be?

It is very interesting. They condemn the demonstration per se, no matter what you’ve done. It is a warning to pacifism, the conviction makes it clear that it is the same unfurling a banner, slapping someone or sitting on the ground. Being there was illegal and that’s what they have punished us for.

This is the criminalisation of protest, strictly speaking, isn’t it?

It is the criminalisation of protest in front of the Parliament. They do not care if we demonstrate in the street, if we interrupt the traffic where needed… but they cannot tolerate that we go there, at their place of work, to actively prevent them from approving cuts and make such decisions.

One of the most common slogans at the demonstrations that take place after the arrests is “If you touch one of us, you touch us all”. Have you felt it’s true? Do you feel supported?

Yes. And since the sentencing, even more. We have received a lot of support. Another chanted slogan is “I was at the Parliament too” and we felt that it was real. Very different people, with different sensitivities, said that they were also surrounding the Parliament that day and they have kept that commitment, that responsibility. I personally am extremely happy with the solidarity we have received from all the people who participated in the 15M, not only in Barcelona; and there are also my oldest comrades, who have stood by me in a more personal way.

I have felt supported in many different ways. For example, many people who know me from work have gone to protests for the first time in their life as a result of my conviction and even my bosses have sent me messages like “Ciro, we’re here for whatever you need”.

An assembly of relatives has been launched, it that right?

Yes, and it has done much in this regard; supporting the relatives. Their assembly is completely autonomous; they decide on their communication lines and strategies without our intervention in anything.
It is the slogan “if you touch one of us, you touch us all” in practice. Through this group they feel useful, they feel that they can help us and they can help each other. Usually, our relatives are not as politicised as we are. They are progressive people who believed in the democracy that they fought for. They have, therefore, a disappointment and they feel “sorry for not leaving us a better world”. I don’t see regret in them, but very interesting reflections on the way we have been educated. Some wonder whether the principles of solidarity, freedom, equality, etc. that they instilled in us are precisely those that have brought us to this point or whether it would have been better to have educated us in individualism. I have it clear and I keep repeating to my mother: you must be proud of us.

Is fear changing sides? Do you think that this conviction is the regime striking blindly out of fear for what is coming?

I don’t know. We may be at a time in which the most militant of us are in fear. I don’t think that other people, including those who are supporting us, are afraid; they don’t see prison as an issue.
Fear may be switching sides in the sense that the privileged are getting nervous. It has to do with SYRIZA in Greece, with Podemos in Spain or with Popular Unity Candidates (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular – CUP) in Catalonia… But also with what is looming beyond the political parties. Coalitions, unions, a different way of looking at people in power. I am referring to the daily work, to the actual construction of something different. So fear does change sides.
Being optimistic, our conviction in this context is the system’s last gasps, because that social peace to which we have been accustomed for 35 years is coming to an end.

Do you have regrets?

No. I still think it was a great mobilisation. “Surround the Parliament” remains an extremely lucid proposal. It is to illustrate that people can stop the things they do not like. I was there and would do so again.

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