9N, A TRIAL
Artur Mas writes about his experience in the dock during the trial against himself, Ortega and Rigau for 9N
Translator’s note: 9N is the name for the unofficial Catalan independence referendum held on 9 November 2014. Then president Artur Mas stood trial last week, along with two colleagues, on charges related to allegedly organising an illegal vote.
I wake up rested after an intense weekend: Helena, my wife, and I have been looking after our granddaughters, little Helena and Gal·la. I walk out of my front door with my family; some neighbours come up to me offering encouragement. It’s half past seven: the wind is chilling Monday’s first beats. We head to the Palau de la Generalitat [Palace of the Catalan Government] as the sun starts to show its head. My annoyance at sitting in the dock for having complied with a democratic mandate is contrasted with the strong shows of affection in the street. This sensation keeps coming back throughout the day.
President Puigdemont gives an institutional speech of support. He finishes, we meet and greet each other. I thank him for his unwavering support. We leave the palace constantly feeling the closeness and love of the crowd. More than 50,000 people from around the country, many having got up very early, have come out on a Monday morning. The people always teach us a lesson: unity and social mobilisation. I climb the stairs of the Higher Court of Justice and, before entering, have a final glance along Passeig Lluís Companys: it’s all very moving. They already have the photo: Joana Ortega, Irene Rigau and I, sat on the defendants’ bench. To my left I see the public prosecutor, the same that was on duty for 9N and didn’t do anything to block the vote. I remember that the Board of Prosecutors of Catalonia unanimously declined to bring charges because they found no grounds for a case following the referendum. That report was accepted as evidence by the previous examining magistrate, but in this stage of the trial it has been dismissed. I make my statement and emphasise that 9N was legal and democratic, and that I would do it all again.
The emotional intensity of the first day contrasts with a monotonous Tuesday of statements of a more technical nature. The prosecution is trying to prove that the Catalan government actively took part in the organisation of the vote after 4 November [the date when an injunction by the Constitutional Court was issued to stop all referendum preparations]. The participatory process arose from the perfect symbiosis that has defined the independence movement: initially, the institutions sorting out the logistics, and later, the people voluntarily taking on the staging of the vote. The morning’s witnesses, many linked to the world of education, remind me of the long queues to vote. Those of the afternoon remind me of the more anonymous volunteers, who looked after the technical aspects, or fielded calls. The referendum was a voluntary exercise in liberty.
Added value: personalities I’ve worked with so that Catalonia can exercise its right to choose and become a state are testifying. They note that the injunction of 4 November was vague and that, as such, it was highly improbable that the Spanish state would bring criminal proceedings against us. The state ignored the request of their legal service to issue us with a formal warning. Nor did they say that we could be committing crimes of disobedience. 9N was legal, we didn’t commit any crimes.
The Supreme Court bursts onto the scene. Moments earlier, the former minister for the Presidency and current spokesperson for my party in the Spanish Congress, Francesc Homs, had been testifying. While he is replying, we are informed that the Supreme Court has set the date for his trial: 27 February. I don’t believe in coincidences. You get the feeling that there is a synchronised legal timetable.
9N was a success thanks to nearly 42,000 volunteers. Some of them are appearing today as witnesses before the bench. Their arguments give evidence for the sobriety of an action that should be normal in a 21st century democracy. The normality of the explanations of a mayor from Alt Empordà or a coordinator from Roda de Ter are juxtaposed with the repeated questioning by the prosecution. One of the witnesses convincingly pointed out the referendum’s democratic roots: “There should be 2.3 million defendants here who took part because they wanted to”.
The last day of the trial. Helena has been with me every day. The prosecution and the defence give their closing arguments. As defendants, us three have the right to a final statement, the final reasoning. The public prosecutor reveals that the ex-Attorney General, Consuelo Madrigal, mentioned to him that he had to be impartial. It’s terrifying. Shouldn’t prosecutors always be impartial? Why such justification? The Spanish state fails to obey rulings of the Constitutional Court. How many trials would there have to be? I also remember that, over the years, I have been defamed and libelled, but no prosecutor spoke out in my defence. And I was an elected official, the president of Catalonia.
I declare myself ultimately politically responsible for the referendum and that I am not guilty. Neither Joana Ortega, nor Francesc Homs, nor Irene Rigau nor myself are. We feel proud of 9N. Civil spirit and democracy are virtues for a country. That they want to make 9N into a crime is a grave error. The trial comes to an end and a verdict will eventually be handed down. President Puigdemont welcomes us to the Palau and we attend to the media. We expect to be acquitted as we have committed no crime, but whatever the verdict may be, after this trial, Spanish democracy is a little smaller.