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‟It is better to suffer an injustice than to commit it” — Closing remarks of Jordi Sànchez

Prof. Dr. Axel Schönberger

Jul 22, 2019 — 

‟It is better to suffer an injustice than to commit it” — Closing remarks of Jordi Sànchez, Member of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, in the political process of Madrid on 12 June 2019

Jordi Sànchez is a Catalan political prisoner in Spain and thus also in the European Union. He was President of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC). When he wanted to face the election for the office of President of the Generalitat de Catalunya as an elected deputy, for whom the presumption of innocence was and is valid, the Spanish examining magistrate Pablo Llarena did not release him from the so-called 'pre-trial detention', so that he could not exercise his passive right to vote and could not be elected. He was also only allowed to take up his mandate as a member of the Spanish Congress of Depties, but was suspended from the Board of the Congress.

According to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the detention of Jordi Sànchez is arbitrary. The criminal proceedings against him, which are conducted in the first and only (!) instance before the Supreme Court in Madrid, have no basis in Spanish criminal law. It violates mandatory international law (ius cogens), European law and Spanish law. The way in which Spain deprives Jordi Sànchez of his civil rights clearly recalls the injustice of German National Socialism and Spanish Francoism.

According to the United Nations' competent body, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, set up by the Human Rights Council, Spain has violated Articles 2, 9 to 11 and 18 to 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 2, 14, 19, 21, 22, 25 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the case of Jordi Sànchez.

Jordi Sànchez is being detained in Spain for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, assembly and political participation. His imprisonment violates the principle of the equality of all human beings because it was justified by his political opinion. The criminal proceedings brought against him do not even provide the basic guarantees for a proper and fair trial before a competent and impartial court and for an adequate defence. The trial of Jordi Sànchez, a cheap farce, is a disgrace to Spain and the European Union as a whole, which tacitly tolerates these serious Human Rights violations.

May all people of good will hear the closing words of Jordi Sànchez in the Madrid show trial and thereby remember the Apology of Socrates!

And Europe remains silent and watching!

Concluding remarks by Jordi Sànchez before the Supreme Court in Madrid on 12 June 2019:

«2500 years ago, o judges, Socrates said: ‟It is better to suffer an injustice than to commit it.” And I believe that it is difficult to go beyond these words today to describe the situation in which many people, especially myself, live in the face of this situation that has afflicted us since October 2017. Nor can these words improve any definition of the principles that have defined my civic and social engagement: They are the principles of non-violence.

In these long weeks we have been in this room, we have heard again and again about 'violence'. And we have heard that the concept of 'violence' has been trivialized. And if, I believe, any right today supports those of us who are in the dock, it is the defense of principles that some of us have had since the beginning of our political activity.

I was never what they call a professional politician. But since my youth, since I could think reasonably, I consider myself a person with a high political vocation. And I have always used them in civic associations, entities, NGOs and social movements, because I believed that it was a form in which I could bring in my convictions, that I could improve the social and political reality of the country, and where I felt effectively at ease: in social activism. In an activism committed to democratic values, a democracy based on a liberal principle of democracy, respect, dialogue, the recognition of others, alterity. But convinced that there are no ideas or principles that must be silenced for fear of a power that threatens rights and freedoms such as freedom of expression, demonstration or assembly.

Nonviolence is the best form in which bourgeois values, personal values, convictions of respect for others, for those who think differently, also for those who oppress one, are fundamental, and that one's own ideas should never triumph over another's ideas by force. And non-violence is not indifference, it is not passivity, it is not hiding from the fear and threat of a repressive state, of state violence. Nonviolence means standing up for the consequences, taking responsibility for them, as Socrates did, despite the fact that these consequences are unjust and cause pain. And to accept them without wanting to inflict pain on the other, neither on the mighty nor on the weak. Respect for others is the basis for non-violence.

And I think that's what we lived in Catalonia on October 1st. And I think this is also my modest political career in the social and political activism that I began in the eighties of the 20th century. But sometimes, as Socrates said, if one has this attitude, one must suffer injustice, and I do not deny before this court that I consider myself a victim of injustice, of pain inflicted by the State, by the power of the State.

For many people, this process lasted long, more than fifty sessions, many weeks, many days. I ask all these people to think about how long it might be to be locked up behind bars for 604 days. And that causes pain. Prison causes pain. It causes it in the person who suffers in prison, but especially in their relatives. With my parents, Oriol, April and Clara and Susanna. And it's a bigger pain than you suffer when you're locked up in prison. But in Catalonia this pain has also been socialized. People, the society have lived in pain in our prison. And this pain, paradoxically, has certainly caused frustration, but also the greatest values of solidarity of thousands, of hundreds of thousands of people in Catalonia. And the ability to reverse pain and uphold civic values, social cohesion and public engagement grew. And today I am proud to be part of a society that has overcome pain with a willingness to show solidarity and cohesion. And today I reaffirm that there is better social capital in Catalonia today than there was a few years ago, that there is greater trust between people. And I would also like us to appreciate and appreciate this reality, this unifying, civic force, this civic culture here in Catalonia. Despite the pain we have experienced since October 2017, it has been possible to produce them.

I learned a lot of things in prison. And I would like to make one of these points today, in my last speech before this court, in order to influence you, who have the opportunity to influence the judicial authorities and also the public opinion that will be watching us and the legislators, so that you take note of it. It doesn't concern me, because in a few months or weeks my ‘pre-trial’ detention will be over. But I believe, and I am facing the criticism of not having noticed earlier such a great injustice which should be changed in Spain: the use and abuse of 'pre-trial detention'. An abuse often used by the prosecution to gain advantages over positions with very weak evidence. For prisoners who have been deprived of their liberty — after 18, 24 or 36 months in prison and in the face of very high threats of punishment — to whom the Public Prosecutor's Office offers a reduction in the sentence overnight and offers them to be released immediately if they accept this ‘invitation’ and in return confess guilty, although they may not be guilty at all. And that happens. Because we humans evaluate and provide a calculation of chances, costs and use. And people say: I am already two years in prison, they request four years, they tell me to plead guilty, I am not, but that guarantees me to get out, and I will not play Russian roulette, that a court will sentence me to eleven or nine years. I would therefore ask you to do everything in your power to ensure that Spain makes progress in the field of democracy and justice and also to follow the instructions given by international organizations regarding the correct application of pre-trial detention.

In this trial we have seen in a surprising way how what we wanted to avoid, namely the political view, fully entered into this trial and how, if anyone has doubts, it was largely brought in by the prosecution. And if anyone doubts my remarks, I invite you to listen to the last speech of the prosecutor Zaragoza. I think it is obvious that in this process we have essentially talked about politics and fundamental rights. And it is unfair to this court that it must solve a problem of a purely political nature. I don't think you have a solution to the problem you've been facing. Justice cannot solve a political problem. But it is true that you have a responsibility not to exacerbate the political crisis. And that is a responsibility that is no small thing. I do not want to be in your shoes to give an answer to everything that has been said in these months. But what is clear is that today we have a political problem which has been irresponsibly passed on to the judiciary and that it must respond, that it must say something. I hope that your verdict, as Andreu Van den Eynde said, will help to resolve what the political class of the time was unable to resolve, a political problem for which only politics could find a solution.

But the most surprising thing about this trial was the denial of reality, the denial of the truth by the accusations, especially by the prosecution and Vox. One author, Hannah Arendt, said that ‟truth, although powerless and always inferior in a direct clash with the established powers, has a special power. Whatever the rulers do, they are unable to discover or invent a viable substitute. Persuasion and violence can destroy the truth, but they cannot replace it.”

October 1 wasn't a day of violence. They will be able to say it a thousand times, they will be able to say it louder than I am speaking now, but they will not be able to convince the people who lived on 1 October that these were days of violence. For violence did not exist unless we wanted to transform the concept of violence into an ethereal concept. October 1 was a great day, a great expression of political disunity of civil society, political protest and even political dissent. Some of us have defined it as a great act of disobedience, the most important in Europe, when you look at the people who participated, more than two million people. I do not know whether it was an act of disobedience, on which no court prohibited citizens from voting, but it was an act of affirmation of their dignity. And that's what you have to judge. And assess the extent to which the right to protest, including disagreement, is legitimate. To what extent is it necessary and essential for a democracy that there should be social units, citizen movements, citizens who do not belong to political parties, who do not participate in institutions, who want to be active members in the political life of a country? How difficult a country that loses its ability and nerve to have an active society will be! You must be well aware, and I am sure, that your judgment will also lead to an interpretation of the limits of political, democratic and liberal fundamental rights. The right of assembly, the right to demonstrate, the right to object. And that is fundamental not only for the twelve of us in the dock today, but also for the societies around us and, above all, for the future of democracy in Catalonia and Spain.

Please note that in a territorial political conflict to which the 1978 Constitution does not give an answer and which, after many years, led to the so-called process of self-determination in Catalonia, we have also entered into a conflict of rights and freedoms. Today no one can deny that not only the political future of Spain and Catalonia as a whole, but also the depth of democratic values and rights and freedoms are at stake. It is no coincidence that bodies which deserve to be treated with the greatest respect when they talk about Venezuela, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey or India have expressed their voice and their opinion on the people here before you. I am talking about Amnesty International, I am talking about the International Pen Club, I am talking about the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations. And I don't want to extend this any further, you know it better than I do. But you have to be well aware that today's controversy is not only about the right to self-determination, but that this is its essence and that it is fundamental, and that it is the origin of the problem and what we have to deal with to find a solution. Today, the problem is also one of rights and freedoms and the impact on fundamental political rights.

Paradoxically, I, who was never a professional politician, was led to run first for the Catalan Parliament and then for the Congress of Deputies during my detention on electoral lists. I have renewed my commitment and I am doing it today before you and before the people who see us. I believe in the politics of citizenship and institutions. And I have experienced things which I consider to be a restriction of my political rights as a Member of Parliament, first in the Catalan Parliament [in Barcelona] and then in the Congress of Deputies [in Madrid]. But it is not important to me as a personal matter, it is important to me as a value, not as an anecdote, but as a fundamental risk. This concerns the political rights and freedoms at stake in this criminal process.

I will end my speech and I would like to conclude it with an optimistic statement. In prison you get to know many people, many rules and unwritten laws. And I have an obligation to a person I shared a cell with in Lledoners prison, I told her: I'll say it. There is a rule of this person, the Lamartí rule, which says that there is no door that cannot be opened. I'm not gonna tell you what this person's doing because he's in jail. It is the metaphor of the door that does not remain locked, it is the metaphor that I would like to mention here at the end. In politics, in democracy, there are no doors that remain closed when there is a majority of citizens who want to open them.

And I am one hundred per cent convinced that the majority in Catalonia will be able to open a democratic door with ballot boxes, because ballot boxes can never be a threat to democracy. The ballot box is not an instrument of a coup d'état. Never, never, ever! And in Catalonia there will be ballot boxes, and we will vote, and we will agree an agreement with the Spanish State, because it is the only civilised thing that allows us to look to the future, a political agreement. To vote that we want to grow up. Perhaps I will not experience the independence of my country, or perhaps I will see it, but I am sure, I hope that this agreement will be achieved through a vote on a legitimate right, as the Scots or the inhabitants of Quebec or the people around us have done.

Since I've been in prison, I've used a phrase that doesn't come from me; many people think it's mine. I take the opportunity to rectify to avoid copyright claims. It is by a poet, Joan Maragall, and says ‟Llum als ulls i força al braç” (‟Light in the eyes and strength in the arm”). I wish you all the light in the world for your verdict. And I wish all those who have made it possible for us to be here today with dignity and serenity, my fellow citizens, all the strength to continue to uphold the same dignity that we have up to now upheld.

Finally, I would like to thank my defenders, Jordi, Anna, Quico, Míriam, Ramon, all the people who have worked with the team and with the other defenders. I will not name them individually for obvious reasons, because otherwise I would be debauched. Yesterday I said it, I dictated a tweet that said they were great professionals, but they are even better people. And I appreciate that.

I would also have liked to thank the plaintiffs, but I suppose you will understand that it would not be appropriate to thank them if they applied for a 17-year prison sentence, but I wish them well. For although we are worlds apart in the face of the whole attitude I saw here, I am fully convinced that most of the plaintiffs — I do not know if all, but most of them —, when they turn off the light at night, are aware that, in full consciousness, they did not do what they should have done, and that they know that they have tried rhetorical means and figures to defend an unlawful position. I trust that justice will finally prevail.

Thank you very much!»

A transcription of the Castilian original on which the English translation is based was kindly provided by the magazine L'Unilateral — El digital de la República Catalana.

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