Photojournalist Albert Garcia denies assaulting a police officer: "On the contrary, they hit me"

The prosecutor's office modifies the accusation and asks for a €4,800 fine for the photojournalist

4 min
El País' photojournalist Albert García, in the middle of a rally in support of the profession, before going on trial

BarcelonaIt is unusual for a journalist to sit in the dock, and even less so for him to do so with the entire profession behind him. On Thursday, Albert Garia, a photojournalist who works for El País, has again denied having pushed and assaulted a National Police officer while covering – properly accredited – the riots in Barcelona's Plaça Urquinaona on October 18, 2019, after pro-independence leaders were sentenced over the 2017 referendum. "On the contrary, they beat me", Garcia insisted in the course of the trial in Barcelona's criminal court number 8. Before, dozens of professionals have concentrated at the gates of the Ciutat de la Justícia to demand his acquittal.

Initially the Prosecutor's Office was seeking a one-and-a-half prison sentence for Garcia, on one count of battery and two of assaulting a police officer. Last March the Barcelona High Court dismissed the first of the crimes and the prosecution reduced the sentence it was seeking for the photojournalist to nine months in prison for a single count of assaulting a police officer. At the end of the trial, in an unusual move, the Public Prosecutor's Office changed its requested sentence again: it now wants a €4,800 fine for a crime of resistance and a misdemeanor of minor battery.

During his interrogation, Garcia explained that he was documenting an action of the National Police on a young man in Plaça Urquinaona, duly accredited and "at a very prudent distance", when one of the agents stood in front of his camera to prevent him from continuing to photograph the intervention. "I tried to dodge a little," he said. Garcia explained that the officer pushed him and almost knocked him to the ground. Afterwards, "everything happened very quickly," the photojournalist explained: "I didn't understand anything that was happening to me, they grabbed me by the neck, I was out of breath, they threw me to the ground, pinned me down and hit me in the face. He was then taken away into custody and handcuffed. "I told them they were hurting me and to take me away in a dignified manner," Garcia said. According to his version, despite the demands, the police did not help him "in any way". He ended up at the police station and it wasn't until the early hours of the morning that he was released with charges.

The police officer who ordered his arrest has contradicted the photojournalist's version. He said Garcia ignored them when he and his colleagues ordered the journalists to leave, accused Garcia of pushing him and said the two then "struggled" until he noticed that the photojournalist had injured a finger on one of his hands. "Then I thought: first it was disobedience, but now I'm taking him into custody". And he asked his colleagues to arrest him. The rest of the police officers who testified in the trial corroborated this police version and have spoken of a "very hostile atmosphere" in the square at the time of the arrest

Another of the officers also referred to the moment in which Garcia was taken into custody. In spite of the fact that the images show how they drag him in an unvomfortable position, the police officer has assured that it was the photojournalist who "threw himself to the ground". "He was screaming and letting himself fall, and complaining about how we were carrying him". At the end of the trial, Garcia has taken advantage of the last turn to accuse the police of "perjury".

"Cameras, cameras!"

The officers' account contradicts Garcia's, but also that of the journalists who have testified as witnesses in the trial. Journalist Anna Punsí, who was very close to Garcia when he was arrested and recorded with her mobile phone the moment of the arrest, has explained that, when everything happened, both Garcia and her and the rest of the professionals were recording a police action from a distance. Even so, the journalist had "the feeling" that the police "did not want what could be considered a bad performance to be caught on camera", because they were overpowering a person at a time when the square was quiet. "Cameras, cameras!" she heard officers shouting at each other to warn each other to be careful in the presence of journalists.

"I was surprised that it bothered them that we were recording," she insisted. The journalist also explained that at the moment when she, Garcia and other professionals were documenting the police action prior to Garcia's arrest, all the journalists stood in a semicircle but distanced themselves from the scene so as not to "interfere" with the police action. In the police report on Garcia's arrest, the officers state that they spoke to Pablo Ordaz, editor-in-chief of El País. He explained that it was not the first time that Garcia had had a similar problem and that the same day he had been warned in the newsroom that he should wear properly accreditation and that the clothes he was wearing were too similar to those of the demonstrators. "It is impossible that I said this," said Ordaz, who testified as a witness in the trial. The reporter said that, despite being editor-in-chief, he is not Garcia's direct superior or that of any of the journalists in the Barcelona newsroom, because he works in the Madrid newsroom, and he denied having met him that day or having reproached him in any way. The judge will now have the last word.