Misc 25/09/2018

“We never encouraged any violence": footage of former Catalan ministers defending themselves in court before being imprisoned

Junqueras, Bassa, Forn and Romeva emphasised their spotless careers, while Santi Vila underscored his efforts to "stop everything from falling apart"

5 min

BarcelonaLeaked footage of the former Catalan ministers being questioned by National Court Judge Carmen Lamela on 2 November —a few hours prior to being remanded in custody— shows all of them stating on several occasions that at no point did they encourage or take part in any violent acts. As proven by the audio clips which this newspaper was able to obtain earlier, the former ministers referred to their personal and political backgrounds when declaring that they do not believe in using violence to achieve political ends, and that they have always opted for dialogue and democracy instead. The Catalan News Agency (CNA) has obtained the video of the minsters’ court appearances.

Former Vice President Oriol Junqueras denied having spent any public funds on the 1 October referendum, while Santi Vila, the former Culture Minister, highlighted his talks with Madrid politicians to find a negotiated solution that would "stop everything from falling apart".

In the courtroom footage Judge Lamela can be seen in profile on the right of the screen, with the two public prosecutors facing the camera at the top of the image, defence lawyers at the bottom on the left, and the defendants, one by one, in profile on the left of the screen, facing the judge. Apart from the cross-examinations, which lasted some one and a half hours altogether, the session continued for another two hours due to the prosecutor's office’s requests for injunctions and detention without bail, and the defences’ objections. At this point, all the defendants were present in court, although only Junqueras and Meritxell Borràs are visible on camera.

In the videos one can see and hear how the former vice president and ministers attempted to defend themselves against accusations of rebellion, sedition, disobedience, neglect of duty and misuse of public funds. The majority only answered questions from their own lawyer, one or two from the other defence lawyers, while Vila, who was the only one to be sent to prison pending his release on bail, replied to both the prosecution and Judge Lamela. The cross-examinations lasted about five minutes each, with the accused essentially all claiming that they had not had sufficient time to prepare a defence, they had not encouraged or participated in violent acts and that no public funds had been spent on the independence referendum. Questioning Vila and former Justice Minister Carles Mundó took a little longer.

Former Vice President Junqueras reiterated that at no time did he encourage or participate in violent acts, "due to my personal beliefs". He went on to say that "I believe in God and I feel that any form of violence is wrong”. Junqueras went on to say that "my convictions keep me away and prevent me from engaging in any violence". Junqueras also dedicated a good deal of his answers to asserting that the Catalan government’s audit service has certified that all spending was strictly in accordance with the official budget.

The former Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Dolors Bassa, also referred to her past, including her religious convictions, to testify to her non-violent beliefs. "I am a teacher in a private Christian school in Torroella de Montgrí; the use of violence goes totally against my principles, and in my public statements I have never spoken of violence but rather of pacifism”, she stated before Justice Lamela.

Meanwhile, former Minister of the Interior Joaquim Forn claimed that ever since his appointment in July, he had always told his subordinates and the Catalan police, both publicly and privately, that judicial orders "must be obeyed". "We have powers as judicial police and orders must be obeyed, whatever they may be", he concluded.

At around eight minutes, Mundó’s cross-examination lasted a little longer than his colleagues’, but it proceeded in a similar vein. In addition, Mundó asserted that, as Justice Minister, he had felt that it was inappropriate for him to take part in any protests outside the courthouse. He went on to say that the High Court of Justice of Catalonia had explicitly ruled out the charges of rebellion brought by Vox against the Catalan government in September 2017. He also declared that the €6.2m budget blocked by the Constitutional Court (CC) was not spent on the referendum.

Former Foreign Minister Raül Romeva recalled that he has been actively involved in conscientious objection, pacifism and the fight for fundamental rights for more than 25 years, always in a peaceful and democratic way. "Violence is never an option" and the Catalan government never talked about it nor did any individual member of the government, Romeva insisted. He also denied having encouraged anyone to obstruct the police or judiciary from going about their business. "We have always defended the right of expression, fundamental rights, by peaceful, democratic means", and declared it to be the Catalan government’s unanimous position on the matter.

Former Minister of the Presidency Jordi Turull also declared that he had never engaged in any violent acts or encouraged them. When replying to his lawyer’s questions, Turull declared that he has always opted for "non-violence, democracy, the ballot, civility and pacifism". He went on to explain that he was made a minister the previous July. The former Minister of Territory and Sustainability Josep Rull, and the former Minister of Governance Meritxell Borràs gave statements along similar lines.

Santi Vila distances himself

Sant Vila was subject to the longest cross-examination, lasting over one and a half hours, since he the questions from all parties, including the prosecutor and the judge. Vila also declared that he had never encouraged or engaged in violent acts and that he negotiated with politicians in Madrid, who he refused to name, to try "to stop everything from falling apart".

According to Vila, JxSí's electoral platform aimed at achieving independence did not contravene the Constitution, since it only sought to promote "civic initiatives, mobilizing the electorate" in an effort to force the Spanish government to find a negotiated solution. Thus, according to Vila, the government did not take any political or administrative action in favour of independence, adding that neither he nor any member of the Catalan government had spent one euro of public money on the 1 October referendum. According to Vila, even the decision to hold the referendum did not contravene the CC’s rulings, since "it was mostly a rallying effort". "I thought that it was necessary to channel the sentiments of the public, I thought that in the end we would achieve a political consensus that would make it possible, as on other occasions", before admitting that perhaps he had been somewhat "naive".

Vila argued that independence is a legitimate political project, although he had voiced his opposition to the means to obtain it, both publicly and in private. As a result, he acknowledged that the previous months had been "tense" within the Catalan government, while assuring the court that the Spanish Constitution remained in force in Catalonia, since the declaration of independence of 27 October had had "no practical consequences" and dialogue could be started within the constitutional framework. This assertion led the prosecutor not to request unconditional jail for Vila, unlike the rest of his cabinet peers, but instead to set bail at €50,000, a sum he paid the following day.