Carles Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras both won victories in the courts this Tuesday that deserve to be highlighted, especially because in the middle of the Spanish judicial wasteland it is difficult to find situations that have a similar outcome. In the case of Puigdemont, this is the first conviction against a man who posted a video on social media of himself riding a horse and in which he stated his hope that the president in exile would be raped in prison. The video is from April 2018 and the penalty imposed is almost ridiculous: an administrative fine assessed at two months, at a rate of 20 euros per day. With regard to Junqueras, his victory has to do with an appeal he filed to investigate who from the Supreme Court sent a WhatsApp message threatening the prison treatment boards with criminal consequences if they backed the proposal that the pro-independence prisoners should be allowed to spend the coronavirus lockdown in their homes, as other inmates were able to.
The former vice president of the Catalan government and president of Esquerra Republicana has, through his lawyers, raised a crucial issue that is becoming a kind of escape route for the Supreme Court, used with increasing frequency in its relations with journalists. On at least two occasions, information has been communicated via a medium so informal as WhatsApp, bypassing the traditional press release by the Supreme Court itself or the president of its criminal chamber, judge Manuel Marchena, who presided over the court that sentenced the Catalan leaders to long prison sentences. Oriol Junqueras filed a complaint about this in a Manresa court and the judge ended up sending the matter elsewhere on the grounds that it did not correspond to her but to the Supreme Court. But now the Barcelona Audience considers that, since the actions that are the subject of the complaint are attributed generically to the Supreme Court but not specifically to a judge, it will have to be investigated beforehand since the information could have come from other people in the court, such as lawyers or secretaries. Only if it is established that a Supreme Court judge took the action, would the Manresa court be excluded from the decision, so in the meantime, it will have to consider whether or not to admit the complaint.
This process needs to be monitored in detail: is it possible to attribute the same validity to a WhatsApp message which, in the end, is still a private communication, even if sent to a large forum, as to an official press release? It could easily be seen that this route achieved the same effect but uses a procedure that is much less regulated and which remains outside public scrutiny. Would that WhatsApp message - which had, at the very least, the tone of a strong warning - have been as clear in an official statement? In fact, we also learned from a WhatsApp text that the trial of Catalan president Quim Torra's disqualification from office holding in the Supreme Court could be on September 17th or at least could start that day. Everyone ended up taking it for granted, although in fact there has been no official communication. One may come to think that as far as the Catalan independence activists are concerned, any communications method will do and since they almost never given the reason, one should at least expect the procedure to be as conventional as possible. Junqueras has every right to demand it.
One last note regarding the conviction of the crackpot who threatened Puigdemont. If it was surprising to see the ridiculously small sentence imposed by the judge, even more of an eye-opener was the position of the public prosecutors, who trivialized the facts and asked for the acquittal of the accused.