Monday

18th Jan 2021

Opinion

Behind bars: a visit to an imprisoned Catalan politician

  • The prison where Carme Forcadell, the former Speaker of the Catalan parliament, will serve a 11.5 year sentence for 'sedition' (Photo: Council of Europe)

Mas d'Enric prison, near Tarragona in Catalonia, does not look like an ugly place - for external visitors like us.

You might even think that it is a nice-looking building if you didn't know it was a prison.

Read and decide

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We walk along a glass corridor and a patio with well-kept olive trees before reaching a large room with glass walls, furnished with tables and sofas.

The glass walls are being decorated by inmates with Christmas ornaments. From here you can even see a bit of the Mediterranean forest out there. The beach is only 10km away.

Then she enters the room and we greet her warmly.

We sit on the small sofas and start our conversation. She tells us that people like her being in prison helps to draw the public's attention to conditions in jail and to penitentiary policies.

She continues explaining that she talks a lot with the other inmates, many of them facing very hard lives outside prison. She tries to help them.

Without education and without a solid family, she says, people have a good chance of ending up here where I am. "You can never feel good in jail, but I want to be positive and I don't want to lose hope. Things will get better."

The woman we talked to on that mild autumn afternoon is Carme Forcadell, the former Speaker of the Catalan parliament.

She has been in jail for almost two years. On October 14, she was sentenced to 11.5 years in prison because the Spanish Supreme Court declared her guilty of the bizarre crime of sedition.

The court justified Forcadell's sentence due to "her decisive role in the direction of a process of legal creation that, despite the more than obvious legal flaws, acted as an illusory reference for citizens who would be mobilised as an instrument to exert pressure against the state government."

In other words: what brought her to prison was the "crime" of allowing a democratic parliament to debate and approve laws.

In that specific case, a bill that would allow Catalans to vote in a referendum for self-determination and, if there was a majority in favour of independence, to start the transition towards statehood.

She has been condemned by the Spanish judiciary to more than a decade of imprisonment for having done what everyone would expect from the Speaker of any democratic parliament: not to prevent debate and decision-making by the majority in accordance with the chamber's own rules.

That such an unjust and disproportionate conviction - like the rest of the sentences against the Catalan political prisoners amounting to a total of 100 years of prison - should be handed down in a member state of the European Union, and should not create a scandal for international public opinion, leaves Catalans and many democrats around the world simply stunned.

No decent democracy should ever justify removing the personal freedom of a parliament's president, elected by the voters and invested by the parliamentary majority, because she has not prevented her parliament from debating and implementing a democratic mandate.

And the silence of the international community in the face of such abuse can never ever be justified.

Author bio

Jordi Solé is a former MEP for Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC) and Stéphane Bergeron is Canadian MP for the Bloc Québecois.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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