The speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, has, in front of the Spanish justice minister, Rafael Catalá, denounced the existence of political prisoners in Spain and the setbacks suffered by freedoms and fundamental rights in the state. The comments came during an event at the Barcelona College of Lawyers as part of festivities for St. Raymond of Penyafort, patron saint of lawyers, turning it into the most tense event ever seen during the college's patron festival.
Torrent's speech earned applause from many of the lawyers present but a number of the members of the College left in protest, including the vice-president of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia, Jesús María Barrientos, the chief prosecutor of Catalonia, Francisco Bañeres, the chief prosecutor of Barcelona, Concepción Talón, the former dean of the College and father of the current dean, Eugeni Gay, the president of the Audience, Antonio Recio, and members of the audience. The majority went back in after Torrent finished.
"We in the public and the institutions are observing with concern the crisis of the rule of law", said Torrent at the start of his remarks. The speaker said that two essential questions are over the separation of powers and the guaranteeing of fundamental rights.
In his brief speech, he gave a number of specific criticisms, like those made yesterday by Javier Pérez Royo, professor of Constitutional Law at Seville University about the "regression to a pre-democratic situation", or the report, also released yesterday, from Amnesty International. Torrent referred to "weaknesses and lacks in relation to the separation of powers" in recent years; the repeated criticisms in Council of Europe GRECO (Group of States against Corruption) reports; recorded conversations between politicians discussing the choice of public prosecutors and statements from ministers anticipating legal decisions; a New York Times editorial about the so-called ley mordaza (gag law), saying it "disturbingly harkens back to the dark days of the Franco regime" and the recent sentences for puppeteers and rappers.
"This regression in fundamental rights and freedoms has been observed with special intensity in Catalonia: in recent months serious violations of the rights to freedom of expression, of assembly, of privacy of correspondence, to privacy and to defence have taken place," he said.
He also referred to a violation of fundamental political rights for not being allowed to enact the decisions taken at the ballot boxes. "It's necessary to denounce the existence of political prisoners accused of rebellion, sedition and non-existent crimes," he said.
It was at this point that some of those present started to leave, whilst other applauded.
"It's necessary for legal professionals to take on, as we're seeing them do, the gravity of the times we're living through", he said when he could restart his speech.