Oriol Junqueras, Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa and Raül Romeva, all four political prisoners, explain from prison how they have lived through the last year and how they see the country’s political future
Impotence, injustice, anger, sorrow… We will never forget October 14, 2019. That was the day the Supreme Court sentenced 9 innocent people to almost 100 years in prison: Catalan cabinet ministers Oriol Junqueras, Dolors Bassa, Raül Romeva, Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull; the Speaker of Parliament Carme Forcadell; and civic movement leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez. They were also all disqualified for public office, along with former ministers Carles Mundó and Meritxell Borràs. That was the day the Supreme Court convicted an entire country and condemned democracy and the most fundamental rights. A year later, the political prisoners explain their plight, deprived of liberty, and they analyse the present political context in Catalonia.
From pretrial incarceration to unjust conviction
October 14 last year was the day that changed the lives of the political prisoners. The day they went from pretrial incarceration to final conviction. “It’s been a year since that act of vengeance, a year since a conviction that bore our names but that sentenced an entire country and a political choice,” related Oriol Junqueras. “October 14 last year was one of the worst days of my life,” says Dolors Bassa. “An 11-and-a-half-year prison sentence can never be welcomed, let alone when you are innocent. It was hard for me, and it’s still hard for me to accept a year on,” adds Carme Forcadell.
It’s been a year since that act of vengeance, a year since a conviction that bore our names but that sentenced an entire country and a political choiceOriol Junqueras
Minister Dolors Bassa acknowledges that a “double-digit sentence” had not even crossed her mind. “It was very painful, and many of the inmates at Puig de les Basses did not understand how my sentence could be amongst the longest, when some of them were even serving time for serious violent crimes,” she concludes. Raül Romeva points out that “a year ago each of the political prisoners was personally being sentenced, but the ruling of the Supreme Court went against an entire nation, against ideas and a movement in particular. It was the condemnation of millions of people,” he continued.
Mr Romeva also recalls that “pre-trial incarceration and sentencing show that we are being punished for who we are, and not for what we’ve done.” In this regard, the president of Esquerra Republicana Oriol Junquera assures that the sentence was simply “a waypoint in the general persecution of independence”, a persecution to stifle a movement that will not cease, one that “will only end when we achieve independence.”
The support of the people is essential
If there is one thing that characterizes the Catalan people, it is the persistence in mobilising for the release of the victims of reprisal, both that of the prisoners and of the whole country, evidenced year after year by the mass demonstrations and marches. A persistence and kinship that Junqueras, Forcadell, Bassa and Romeva agree is essential to achieve independence, but also to help them overcome their time in jail whilst feeling accompanied.
“I’ve been lucky to have companions like Raül. That and the warmth the people have shown, have helped make bearable imprisonment, which has been accentuated by the pandemic,” emphasizes Mr Junqueras. For her part, Speaker Carme Forcadell acknowledges that “this year, like the last three, has been very hard. The winters in Mas d’Enric prison drag by and this year we have had to add the confinement because of the pandemic.” Likewise for Ms Bassa, although she says that “starting her studies—a master’s degree in philosophy—the visits from family and friends, letters, and being able to go out to work for a few hours” have helped a lot and lightened things up a bit. “in this unjust situation that has now gone on for 3 years.”
Mr Romeva explains that fortunately “the mobilisation and persistence of thousands and thousands of people accompanies us every day”. In this regard, Ms Forcadell explains that “our situation, and that of our families, is not at all easy but, I think that all of the political prisoners feel the same way, from the first day that we felt the warmth of the people who make it a little more bearable.” “This support and the way we overcome these obstacles will make us stronger and unite more of us in order to achieve the Republic that we long for,” concludes Mr Romeva.
We demand a return to the political arena, staking on an amnesty law to protect the almost 3,000 pro-independence activists who have suffered reprisal, as well as giving voice to the citizens through a referendum.Carme Forcadell
The solution to the conflict lies in politics
Unfortunately, the political prisoners suffer the harshest facet of repression, but thousands of people have suffered reprisals by the Spanish state in the general persecution of independence. In this context, Esquerra’s leaders are clear on the solution to this conflict being political and not judicial. It is through amnesty and a referendum, and not with imprisonment, fines and disqualifications.
“A political conflict must be resolved through politics,” stresses Speaker Forcadell. “The repression by the Spanish state has gone a long way, and although we political prisoners have taken the hardest hit, depriving us of our freedom, it has also affected thousands of people. That is why an amnesty is needed for those in exile, the prisoners, the victims of reprisals… and to offer a political solution to the Catalan people in the form of a referendum. And if won by a majority Yes vote, to constitute the Catalan Republic and implement independence,” says Dolors Bassa.
For his part, Raül Romeva recalls that “we have repeatedly seen that although the law is the same for everyone, justice is not. It is an injustice, and also proof that the Spanish state is a failed state and that will not all go its way.” Carme Forcadell takes the same tack: “No matter how many courts and sentences of years and years in prison there may be, the hope and will of millions of people will not go away.”
All told, Ms Forcadell demands “a return to the political arena, staking on an amnesty law to protect the almost 3,000 pro-independence activists who have suffered reprisal, as well as giving voice to the citizens through a referendum.” Mr Romeva also emphasizes that “measures are needed to recognize the political dimension of the conflict, to wipe the slate clean. An overall solution for all those affected. Repression should never have begun, it is amnesty that is in fact the middle ground, and not a reform of the penal code,” he acknowledges.
Finally, the president of Esquerra Republicana Oriol Junqueras concludes by emphasizing that “we cannot forget that we will come out of this impasse if we manage to keep uniting more and more of us and becoming stronger. We want to leave imprisonment behind us, but above all we want to win the freedom of the nation. We are ready and we will persist to the end.”