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Pro-Catalan independence politician flees to Switzerland to avoid court date

In an interview with Swiss newspaper, CUP spokesperson Anna Gabriel claims she will not receive a fair trial in Spain over role in pro-secession drive in Catalonia

Anna Gabriel en Suiza
CUP spokesperson Anna Gabriel (r) with Carles Puigdemont (second from left) in a file photo.

The spokesperson for the far-left anti-capitalist CUP party in the Catalan region, Anna Gabriel, has fled to Switzerland and does not intend to return to Spain to appear before a Supreme Court judge this week. Speaking in an interview with the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, the politician stated that she has no intention of attending her court date, which had been set as part of the ongoing judicial probe into the unilateral declaration of independence passed through the regional parliament in Catalonia late last year.

“I will not go to Madrid,” the newspaper’s front-page headline read. “As I will not get a fair trial in my country, I have sought one in which I can protect my rights,” the former deputy explained. “I am being prosecuted due to my political activities and the government press has already condemned me.”

Pro-Catalan independence politician flees to Switzerland to avoid court date

The text of the article adds that Anna Gabriel makes reference to the recent leaks to the press about the police investigation into her. “In its report,” the newspaper states, “the Civil Guard draws a portrait of a fierce activist. It accuses her of having participated in the formation of a strategic committee of the pro-independence rebellion and of having encouraged the population to disobey.”

Gabriel responded to these accusations: “I have always campaigned for the [independence] referendum, but in a peaceful manner. The question of Catalonia should be resolved politically, while the Spanish authorities want to silence independence via repression.”

Who are the CUP party?

S. H.

The Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (Popular Unity Candidacy, or CUP) is a small anti-capitalist party, which is pro-Catalan independence and supports leaving the euro zone. It held the key to power in the region after the 2015 regional elections, after the Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition failed to win a majority and needed the support of CUP deputies in the regional parliament in order to form a government.

The regional elections called by the central government in Madrid in December of last year again failed to see a party win a clear majority, but the pro-independence parties have enough seats to form a government – once again meaning that the CUP will play a key role, once a premier can be voted in (the only current candidate is Carles Puigdemont, who has fled to Brussels to avoid arrest for his role in the independence declaration).

Ahead of the illegal referendum on independence for the region held on October 1 of last year, the CUP party released a manifesto in which it defended the need to “disobey” the Spanish state, stating: “We want to bring down the structures of power that stimulate inequality and privilege. Let’s sweep away capitalism, the patriarchy, corruption and the monarchy. Let’s decide our own future, let’s disobey unjust laws to build a free, independent and socialist republic.”

Gabriel, 42, said that she has traveled to Switzerland because there she will be “more useful” for her movement tan “behind bars.” “When I saw the fate of some of my colleagues, who have been in prison since last December, I realized that I had to go. […] The entire [regional Catalan] government is under threat,” she added.

A number of key figures from the pro-independence drive have been in pre-trial custody since late last year, as they await to be tried in court for a number of offenses related to the unilateral declaration of independence, including rebellion, secession and misuse of public funds. These include the “two Jordis,” the leaders of two pro-independence civic organizations, and the former deputy premier of the region, Oriol Junqueras of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC). The entire regional government was sacked under emergency powers assumed by Madrid, under Article 155 of the Constitution. The premier of the region, Carles Puigdemont, avoided arrest by fleeing to Brussels, where he has been ever since.

In a similar line to that taken in a letter sent from jail this week by Junqueras, Anna Gabriel compared the situation in Catalonia to that of Turkey, where, she said, there was a “witch-hunt going on with nearly 900 people under investigation, among them teachers, police officers, politicians and even simple voters.” She also claimed to be a victim of the “violence of the fascists,” from whom she says she receives daily death threats.

Anna Gabriel’s whereabouts have been known about since Saturday. That day, the CUP party stated that its spokesperson had traveled to Geneva “in the last few weeks” to prepare her defense strategy. The party put its decision down to the need to add an “international dimension” to the judicial situation and stated that the country was home to “entities, international institutions and lawyers” linked to the “defense of civil and political rights,” both for the defense strategy of the party as well as the “consolidation of its political positioning.”

Gabriel is being advised by a lawyer in Spain, Benet Salellas, as well as Swiss counsel Olivier Peter, who has in the past handled extradition cases for collaborators with Basque terrorist group ETA, such as Nekane Txapartegi, who was arrested in 2016 in Zurich.

In the same article in Le Temps, Peter stated that he was not concerned about an extradition request for his client, given that Spain cannot guarantee a fair trial. “My client is being prosecuted for political reasons, which would make an extradition request illegal,” he told the paper. “We trust that the Swiss authorities will refuse to legitimize the incarceration of parliamentarians for defending the right to vote.”

The CUP party has denounced the “extremely high” jail terms that Gabriel and other politicians are facing, among whom is her party colleague Mireia Boya, who appeared in court last week over the same charges. They also argue that the judge is seeking to make an example of the key figures in the probe by setting high bail, restricting them from leaving the country and in the aforementioned cases placing them in pre-trial custody.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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