Political prisoners are now free: "Repression has not defeated us"

They leave prison demanding amnesty and assuring that they will never change their convictions

4 min
Political prisoners released from prison, pardoned

Sant Joan de Vilatorrada / Barcelona / FigueresThe pardons of the Spanish government have become effective and the political prisoners are now free. The nine pro-independence leaders imprisoned since the end of 2017 will sleep at home tonight and will not have to return to prison. As they left jail, a crowd gathered to receive them, including members of the Catalan Government such as the President of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, who was in Lledoners penitentiary. The released prisoners demanded amnesty for other victims of reprisals and assured that they will not change their pro-independence convictions or their political commitment to achieve the Catalan Republic. In short, that they will not do so despite the fact that it is the Spanish government that has promoted the measure of grace that has allowed them to leave prison before serving their entire sentence. "Repression has not defeated us," proclaimed the president of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart.

The first to leave was the former Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, whose husband was waiting for her at the door of Wad-Ras prison, along with Catalan ministers Joan Ignasi Elena and Jaume Giró and the current Speaker and vice Speaker, Laura Borràs and Alba Vergés. She first recalled all those indicted and convicted over the Independence bid who, unlike her, have not resolved the situation. With the euphoria of being able to enjoy full freedom, she was convinced that it is possible to achieve amnesty for the other the victims of repression and even self-determination. But Forcadell has wanted to make a speech beyond the strictly political issue and thanked the help other prisoners gave her during her imprisonment. "They have helped me to become stronger and more empathetic," she said with a bouquet of flowers under her arm.

The most iconic image of the day, however, was in the rain outside Lledoners penitentiary. The seven male prisoners were released here a few minutes before noon, exhibiting together a banner with the slogan Freedom for Catalonia. Former Catalan minister Joaquim Forn has explained that they have recovered this slogan that was popularised during the Olympic Games of 1992 when independence, then very minoritarian, tried to take advantage of the sporting event to popularise its cause. When they went through the last prison gate, chaos broke out among the family members who were waiting for them, the demonstrators and the journalists, the cameramen and photographers covering the event.

Convictions intact

Once outside, on a platform prepared for the occasion, the freed politicians made speeches. There was common them: they all said they had not abandoned their pro-independence convictions despite the fact that they have left prison thanks to a pardon from the Spanish government. "Today is not a day of resignation, it is a day of reaffirmation and struggle. They will not silence us," said Cuixart. The secretary general of Junts, Jordi Sànchez - who has posted his order of freedom on social networks - also stressed that they left the prison walls "with heads held very high and determination". "We have not changed our minds, we will continue thinking the same and fighting for independence," Joaquim Forn has reaffirmed

Although the speeches have been characterised by the joy of regaining freedom, there has also been piercing criticism against the state and no hint of gratitude for the measure of grace granted by the Spanish government. Former minister Josep Rull has said that the only ones who have to ask for forgiveness are those who "beat the voters of the 2017 referendum", while Jordi Turull has described the Supreme Court - which condemned them - as the "Guantanamo of justice". The last to take the floor have been Raül Romeva and Oriol Junqueras, who have set their sights on the horizon. The former, to guarantee that they will continue to "go all out" and the latter, pointing out what the next goal must be for the Spanish government: "We will continue to work for amnesty, for all our comrades in exile and those who have been repressed".

Nothing is finished

They are free, yes, but the road for most of them still presents many judicial obstacles, as ex minister Dolors Bassa reminded all those who greeted her on her release. On June 29, around forty high-ranking Catalan government officials will have to appear before the Court of Auditors to know the new bail that will be imposed on them for their management of the Catalan Government's foreign action between 2011 and 2017. Thus, straight after crossing the last security gate of Puig de les Basses prison, she warned that "repression has not stopped". "We are in an obstacle course, this is the first step, but we can never forget that us nine have been released but there are many more indicted," she stressed in front of about 150 people, including friends, family and politicians. Before leaving for Torroella de Montgrí, her hometown, she read Miquel Martí i Pol because "they are words that have been said recently but I want to say them properly" - she said in reference to Pedro Sánchez's speech at the Liceu, who also quoted the poet: "We are where we are because everything is to be done and everything is possible."

"No political prisoners ever again"

This Wednesday all protagonism has been for political prisoners, but Aragonès also offered a statement from Lledoners. He has formulated two wishes: that there is "never again any political prisoner in Catalonia" and that a "democratic" solution to the political conflict can be found. The first is not in his hands, but the second he will be able to begin to address next week. On Tuesday he will meet the President of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, in Madrid.