Fair trial rights undermined in Spain following Operation Judas

This is a guest post written by Sergi Vazquez Maymir, from the VUB Fundamental Rights Research Centre. As with all of our guest posts, the views represented are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials.

Following a year-long investigation, a series of raids took place on 23 September 2019 throughout Catalonia in the context of Operation Judas that resulted in the arrest of nine independence activists and alleged members of the Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDR). So far, only two suspects have been released with charges of terrorism, while the remaining seven are in pre-trial detention on charges of possession of explosives, organisation to wreak havoc, and terrorism. The conditions of custody, combined with the medias use of leaks from the investigation, and the nature of public statements released by the authorities may have put the accuseds fair trial rights in jeopardy.

The spokesperson for the defence claimed that although the Spanish anti-terrorism law had not been officially invoked, the anti-terrorism regime had nevertheless been applied to the accused, since the whereabouts of the arrested were not immediately communicated, and in the first stages of the proceedings, some of the suspects were deprived of the right to communicate with their chosen legal representatives for more than 38 hours. For example, Jordi Ros did not have access to his lawyer until five days after his statement was taken, while Ferran Jolis had to wait for 25 days, seriously undermining their fair trial rights. They both produced self-incriminatory statements before the Guardia Civil and the judge, while accompanied by publicly designated lawyers.

Alerta Solidaria claims that the accused were also subjected to threats and coercion during arrest and custody, transferred to police stations while hooded, deprived of sleep, and forced to undergo long interrogations with no procedural safeguards.

Although the proceedings were still subject to secrecy, details of the investigation were regularly leaked to the media. Only two hours after Guardia Civil entered the homes of the suspects, their personal details, as well as images from Operation Judas, were broadly published in national media outlets. This possible breach of pre-trial confidentiality has already been denounced by the defence, compelling the Prosecutor’s office to launch an investigation.

The number of the headlines and the level of detail flooding the news has starkly contrasted the lack of information provided to the defence, which still did not have access to the case file when the interim decision on pre-trial detention for the accused was issued on 26 September, making it impossible to effectively challenge the measure. Almost two months later, this procedural irregularity has been recognised by the court, eventually leading to the annulment of the decision for four of the accused.

Public statements on the case by Spanish institutions and law enforcement authorities, as well as anonymous judicial sources quoted in the media, have effectively portrayed the accused as terrorists, putting their right to presumption of innocence at risk. On the day of the arrests, the prosecutor affirmed that they are certain that the arrested individuals were planning on carrying out a violent act, while the Ministry of Interior released a statement implying that the individuals linked to the Catalan independentist movement could be prepared to commit violent actions.

To add fuel to the fire, the prosecutor leading the case had requested to keep the suspects in custody based on the terrorist nature of the organisation to which the suspects allegedly belong, as well as for their intentions to overthrow the constitutional order and to disturb public peace. The judge granted the prosecutor’s request, arguing that the suspects are allegedly members of the Teams of Tactical Response, a new cell within the CDR that he described as a hierarchically-structured organisation that aims to establish the Catalan Republic by all means, including through violence.

It is not the first time that members of CDR have been targeted on similar grounds. Last year, Tamara Carrasco was arrested and charged with terrorism and rebellion by the National Court after protesting the imprisonment of Catalan politicians. Photos of her in handcuffs populated the news while her apartment was also searched in her absence. Similarly, Adrià Carrasco was also initially accused of terrorism and rebellion as a member of CDR but escaped to Belgium before being arrested. Charges of terrorism and rebellion have been dropped for both instead they are being prosecuted for public disorders.

The case has an undeniable political component. Operation Judas took place only two weeks before the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders for their involvement in the Catalan Referendum, which sparked unrest across Catalonia. The country was also in the midst of an electoral campaign at the time, and the Catalan conflict took centre stage in all political debates in the run-up to the November 11 general election.

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