CATALONIA

Spanish prosecutors investigating Catalan “republic defense committees”

Separatist groups behind roadblocks deny accusations of vandalism and denounce judicial persecution

Members of CDR block a street.
Members of CDR block a street.Alejandro García / EFE

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Prosecutors at Spain’s High Court (Audiencia Nacional) said on Monday that they are pursuing “criminal investigations of all types” into recent acts of vandalism by separatist grassroots groups calling themselves the Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDR).

The public prosecution services said that these acts “not only endanger public peace and constitutional order, but also the very essence of the democratic system.” The statement did not specify how many individuals are being investigated, or for what specific acts, but noted that these might constitute “rebellion” and “offenses against public peace.”

Prosecutors warned they will keep investigating acts aimed at “subverting the constitutional order”

In a Tuesday morning release, the CDR denied that their acts constitute vandalism, and denounced a strategy to “justify judicial persecution.” (see sidebox)

After partially blocking a few major Catalan roads last week, CDR activists entered toll plazas on the AP-7 and C-32 highways this past Sunday, and forced the barriers open to let drivers through for free.

These and other separatist groups such as Arran are also behind threats issued against Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena, who is in charge of the main investigation into the illegal referendum of October 1, 2017 and the unilateral independence declaration. Besides targeting judges, these groups have been conducting a harassment campaign against Catalan political parties and organizations that support unity with Spain.

CDR deny accusation

Agencies

The CDR on Tuesday warned about an alleged campaign to make them "the target of political persecution and be able to also justify judicial persecution." The Committees accused political parties and the media of "making up an alleged kale borroka that does not exist and never will," a reference to the street vandalism practiced for years by ETA sympathizers in the Basque Country.

“They are afraid to see us practicing active pacifism as a method of social transformation. They are afraid of our ability to bring the country to a standstill.”

Additional security personnel has been dispatched to protect judges in Catalonia following reiterated threats from far-left separatist groups. On March 27, the Rome-based International Association of Judges, which represents legal groups from 73 countries, issued a statement condemning the acts of vandalism against various courts and judges.

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental pillar of a democratic system but it does not justify the personal intimidation of judges with physical violence in any form or means,” reads the statement. “Without interfering in the ongoing political debate in Spain, we must publicly and unequivocally condemn these attacks against the Spanish judiciary.”

300 committees

There are around 300 Committees throughout Catalonia, and their actions have been growing in number and scope ever since Germany arrested Carles Puigdemont, the former premier who fled to Belgium following the failed independence declaration last year. Puigdemont is wanted by Spain on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds, and he is being held in custody while German authorities make a decision regarding his extradition. On Tuesday the German public prosecutor called for him to be returned to Spain.

The CDRs originally grew out of the radical political left, but have recently been adding supporters from the mainstream pro-independence associations Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural, both of whose leaders – known popularly as The Two Jordis – were also caught up in the rebellion probe and held in pre-trial custody. Although the main core of the CDRs is still made up of anti-establishment militants, members now include students, workers and retirees.

These groups are demanding the release of Puigdemont and other individuals accused of leading an illegal breakaway attempt, and whom the CDRs refer to as “political prisoners.” They also view themselves as “defenders of the republic,” which they feel is the legitimate regime following the unilateral independence declaration made in late October by separatist deputies in the Catalan parliament.

In its statement, prosecutors said that they will keep investigating any future acts that “go beyond specific individual actions” and whose ultimate goal is “subverting the constitutional order,” and “using violence to praise persons who are under judicial investigation for one of the most serious crimes existing in a social and democratic rule of law, such as rebellion.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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