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The “very serious repression” in Catalonia and seven more of Julian Assange’s lies

In interview with Catalan radio station, WikiLeaks founder claims Spain heading toward “Chinese censorship model”

Julian Assange speaks to university students in Barcelona on Tuesday via videolink.

The founder of whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, gave an interview to private Catalan-language radio station RAC1 on Wednesday, just four days ahead of the planned vote on independence in Catalonia. During his appearance on the station, he stated that the European Union would end up interceding between Catalonia and Spain as a consequence of the secessionist challenge, and that, in his opinion, the Spanish government is applying “very serious repression by European standards.” Those were not the only false statements he made, however. Here are the eight lies that Assange stated.

1. “Very serious repression by European standards”

In reality, what the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, has stated is that “any action against the Constitution of a member State is an action against the legal framework of the European Union.” As such, the cautionary measures ordered by the Spanish justice system against the organization of the illegal referendum are justified.

2. “There will be a European response. It will take time, but I believe that this type of repression is very dangerous”

All of the statements made by the European Union have indicated scrupulous respect for the internal process in Spain and the decisions taken by the justice system. According to the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, “it’s an internal organization issue related to constitutional agreements.”

3. “This type of repression could be applied to other regions of Spain.”

The only police measures that have been taken in Catalonia respond to orders from the public prosecutor in the face of a number of offenses, many of which are related to sedition and the breakdown of the constitutional order. There are no such cases open in any other Spanish region for similar regions.

4. “There has been a series of attacks against freedom of expression in the Catalan process. Such as going to websites and arresting those who built them, accusing them of sedition and forcing them to close their sites.”

On September 20, 14 people were arrested, some of them members of the regional government and some business figures, for taking part in the organization of an independence referendum that was declared illegal and for other offenses related to sedition.

During the operation, no media outlet or journalist was prohibited from the right to freedom of expression. The Civil Guard searched the offices of media outlets such as El Vallenc because they were being used for logistical activities related to the illegal referendum, such as printing ballot papers. No journalist or media outlet has had any kind of information or opinion on independence censored. Many media outlets, including ones funded with public money, have come out in favor – and continue to do so – of the independence process. The only websites that have been closed – around 140 in total, including referendum.cat – are related to the organization of an illegal referendum and which are issuing citizens with an allegedly criminal call to vote on independence.

5. “Spain is headed toward a censorship model like that of China”

According to the Censorship Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders in 2017, Spain occupies the 29th place out of 189 countries on the issue, and has risen five places compared to 2016. The main reservations of the organization are related to Spain’s so-called “Gag Law.” China occupies the 176th place due to its systematic censorship of the internet and its detailed and exhaustive control of the press. What’s more, there are more journalists locked up there than in any other country in the world.

6. “Catalonia can go to the European Court of Human Rights and in the UN there are organizations that deal with these issues”

When a European court is resorted to, it must be proven that a state has violated the right of the Union, something that is not happening in Catalonia. First: the right to independence is not recognized in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Second: There are several application protocols of the Charter that cannot be interpreted on the margins of the Union’s treaties, which guarantee the territorial integration of all member states. What’s more, the internal process in Spain must be exhausted before turning to international courts, something that has not yet happened, given that the process is still open.

The only element that remains from Assange’s arguments is to call for the right to self-determination via the United Nations, which recognizes the free determination of colonies. But Catalonia is not, nor has it ever been, a colony. Citizens of a region can request the right to self-determination, but based on the fact that they are being denied their fundamental rights, such as the right to free expression or the ability to organize elections that are free, agreed upon and with guarantees, something that has not happened in Catalonia.

7. “I don’t see any Russian intervention nor any Russian interests in this matter”

A detailed analysis by the Hamilton 68 service, from the Alliance for Securing Democracy, has shown that the 600 accounts associated with official Russian interests have helped a number of issues related to Catalonia to become “trending topics” on Twitter. This newspaper has published more detailed analyses that point toward this interference.

8. “I have been detained in the United Kingdom without charge for seven years”

In May the Swedish prosecutor shelved an accusation of alleged rape in 2010, an offense that Assange has always denied happened. He has spent the last five years living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden. After the shelving of the case, the British authorities canceled a warrant for his arrest, as UK daily The Guardian revealed. There is no proof that there are any US extradition requests against Assange for the revelations made public via the WikiLeaks release of a huge trove of US diplomatic cables, and which were published at the time of their release by EL PAÍS.