The circumstances of the arrests that took place during October's protests in Catalonia after the sentencing of pro-independence leaders show, according to a report produced by eight observers, "the existence of an environment of institutional violence" from the moment they were arrested until they arrived in prison. The report, based on interviews with 22 of those arrested, talks about mistreatment, humiliation and violated rights.
Besides being hit, in some cases by agents not wearing identification or with their faces covered, the interviewees report specific instances of threats and intimidation from comments like "you're looking for a death and it won't be on our side" and "we'll put the baton up your arse"), to one officer playing with a knife. The document also reveals a young migrant arrested made a suicide attempt. The majority of those interviewed are between 18 and 23 years of age; only four are older than 25.
"From practically the entirety of the accounts, an environment of violence is attested which isn't limited to situations experienced in public or in police custody (where episodes of direct, physical and/or psychological abuse and aggressions against the people interviewed have been related), but also extends, according to the accounts obtained, to the courts," the text says.
The report was produced by SIRECOVI (System for Recording and Communication of Institutional Violence), part of the Observatory of the Criminal System and Human Rights at the University of Barcelona.
All except two of the 22 interviewees recounted situations of physical or psychological violence, or both, during their arrests. The majority of the reports come from during arrests in the street by Spanish National Police or Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra officers, especially by agents in plain clothes or unidentified. Such treatment continued during transport to and whilst in custody, where general mistreatment is mentioned directly.
"There exist aspects and stories of grave concern for the fundamental rights of the people arrested, in particular their rights to liberty, physical and moral integrity, to medical checks in accordance with the stipulations of international norms and standards, and also their rights to defence and to speak in their own language," the text says.
The aim of the investigation is, according to the authors, to be able to present their conclusions to national and international bodies and organisations, for example within the Council of Europe and the UN, to call for an urgent investigation.
The report says that whilst some were arrested whilst taking part in the demonstrations, others say they "were simply in the streets" or were going home. There's also one individual who says they were collecting scrap but the police interpreted this as carried objects to through at them.
Among the specific allegations against police during the arrests, 11 said they were hit by police batons, 11 said they were thrown to the ground and 12 mentioned being kicked. It is also reported that officers would keep them still with a knee in their faces or on their necks and that they suffered, for example, very tight handcuffs, hits to the face, punches, twisted limbs, being dragged along the floor and being hit by foam or rubber bullets. Some female interviewees also report having their breasts touched.
As for psychological violence, threats are reported, comments like "kill him" and "we'll put the baton up your arse", as well as insults and jokes. This continued whilst they were being taken into custody, with half of those arrested saying they were handcuffed behind their backs and were without safety belts in the vans, meaning they were very unstable, something they described as a "hell", given the acceleration and braking. Two people say they were thrown to the floor in the van, one of whom split her lip.
Once in custody, one goes as far as to say they were treated "like true animals". They complain of cold and a lack of blankets and two people said they had to sleep on the floor whilst urine spread across it from an overflowing toilet. One person said they were "thrown food through the bars of the cell 'as if to dogs'" and five said the cells were dirty and the blankets had mites.
One individual says he wasn't given food, but that he couldn't have eaten anyway due to the "great pain" in his face "as a result of the punches and kicks"; two say they weren't given water but had full bottles placed in front of them they couldn't drink from.
Maltractaments policials, vulneracions de drets en l'atenció mèdica, humiliacions...Tot això ho han patit els joves empresonats per les protestes post-sentència. En parlarà aquesta nit , l'Iñaki Rivera al @Mes_324 a partir de l'informe realitzat al respecte pel @sirecovi. #Mes324— Observatori del Sistema Penal i els Drets Humans (@OSPDH1) December 5, 2019
Within the police stations, they talk of being hit in the face, being trampled on and punches. One person said that despite having a sprain, he was forced to remain kneeling, facing a wall, being slapped when he tried to turn round.
When reports, later dispelled, reached the police station on Barcelona's Via Laietana that an officer had died, some of the people arrested started to be hit, "which caused the walls to start to be covered in blood", they say. "Although all of them had parts of their bodies uncovered, with visible and bleeding wounds, they indicate that the police didn't stop until they saw that one of the young men was really in a bad state," the report says.
As for psychological violence, three say they were threatened with being taken to Madrid, as well as jeering and taunting. "Following a protest from one of them about the mistreatment of a person in custody, they say that a lot of officers came up to her, highlighting that one of them was carrying a knife and that, as he was opening and closing it, he said: 'you're looking for a death and that death won't be from our side'".
Two of those arrested in Tarragona say that early in the morning they were awoken by the Spanish anthem and that they were forced to speak Spanish, even when calling their families. The document denounces various flaws in terms of communicating their rights to the detainees and in them being allowed to contact their families.
Many of the interviewees state the mistreatment didn't end during their first appearances in court and the journeys there and back. Long waits, up to a full day, without food or water. One of those arrested, a young migrant, says that when told by a judge in Girona he would be kept in custody, he tried to end his life "hanging himself with his jumper".
In court, they report the presence of police officers whilst they testified, two of the 22 mentioning members of Spain's National Police Corps with their faces covered. Four testified in handcuffs, one says he wasn't given a chance to explain himself and another that his judge was wearing something on her top "with bands in the colours of the Spanish flag, ostentatiously displayed". Some of them say they were mocked by the judge and were not asked about visible injuries.
The cells in the courts in Lleida are described as "dirty, precarious and small" whilst the ones in Tarragona reportedly had a stone bench and police and others present. As for medical checks, the 11 who were attended to whilst in custody said it took place with police present.
Once they were in prison, they are far more positive about the treatment, even describing it as a relief.