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You can imprison people, but you cannot imprison an idea

Source: Sasha Popovic

By Wiliam Rees

In October 2017 over 2 million Catalans voted in an independence referendum, inspired by those held in Scotland and Quebec. 92% voted in favour of Catalonia becoming an independent state. Unlike in the United Kingdom and Canada, the Spanish Government decided to respond with repression.

This week in Madrid, Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan politicians and activists to jail terms of between 9 and 13 years, totalling over 100 years, for organising that independence bid. Their crime? Simply supporting the implementation of a referendum which allowed the Catalan people to express their desire for self-determination, which is their right according to the United Nations.

Among the imprisoned was Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-president of Catalonia, and recently elected to the European Parliament but unable to take his seat, and also Carme Forcadell, ex-speaker of the Catalan parliament, the Catalan equivalent of John Bercow as Speaker in the House of Commons, or Elin Jones as the Llywydd of the Senedd. Imprisoning political opponents on trumped up charges of “rebellion” and “treason” is something you’d expect to see in a dictatorship like North Korea, not in a supposed modern Western democracy within the European Union.

The Spanish State has repeatedly refused to allow a democratic exercise on the future of Catalonia, choosing instead to favour police violence and state oppression over dialogue. As President of the Plaid Cymru society here at Cardiff University, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I believe these extraordinarily long prison sentences to be completely undemocratic, and I agree with Amnesty International, who have called for the charges to be dropped and the imprisoned social leaders released.

These actions must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, and Llywydd of the Senedd Elin Jones has stated that “The injustice by the Spanish courts and state is unbelievable – incarcerating democrats, people who were elected to do their work representing the people of Catalonia – people, like me, and other members of the Senedd, who do our work representing people here in Wales.” Meanwhile however, there has been striking silence over this matter from the Welsh Government, British Government and European Union.

Whatever your view on Catalan or Welsh independence, surely everybody can agree that all people and all nations should have the right to self-determination, and that states and institutions such as the Spanish State, the United Kingdom and the European Union should respect that right. Especially when pro-independence figures have always acted in a democratic and peaceful manner.

You can imprison people, but you cannot imprison an idea. This was clear to see in Barcelona following the announcement from the Spanish Supreme Court. The Spanish government may have won their case in court, but they lost the people in Catalonia as thousands of people marched towards and occupied Barcelona’s international airport in protest. Sadly, Spanish police responded with yet more violence, attacking the protesters, injuring many, including members of the Press.

Democrats across the world must unite and call for action from the international community to support the release of these political prisoners, and hopefully from this dark night a new dawn will come with a free Catalonia. And who knows, maybe one day, an independent Wales will stand alongside them.

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