The Spanish government says it is abolishing sedition, but in fact what is happening is "a name change", and even worse, an increase in the powers to repress protest. That's the reason, says the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), that the public must protest now - in the December 6th demonstration that the pro-independence organization has called in Barcelona against the reform of the Penal Code. The reform repeals the crime of sedition, but at the same time it broadens and toughens adjoining sections of the Penal Code on offences of public order: introducing an offence of aggravated public disorder, which contrary to its name, does not even require actual violence to be committed but rather, can be triggered by the ambiguous concept of "intimidation" or a crowd that is "well suited to threatening public order", and for which the minimum sentence is raised to three years, a guarantee of jail time. ANC president Dolors Feliu remarked on this, regretting that the changes include "several points that reinforce the penalization" of protests. And she warned that if the new text is passed, the Spanish state will effectively be making "a name change" to sedition so that events similar to those around the 2027 Catalan independence referendum - in which any violence by protesters was conspicuous by its complete absence - can still be prosecuted. And, she added, it will also facilitate the extradition of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and the rest of the leaders in exile.
"It would be good news if we were only talking about the repeal of sedition, but the modification of public order offences is a double-edged move: the Spanish government has said that it is to facilitate extraditing the exiles and putting them on trial, and in addition it cuts directly at the heart of public mobilization, which is what the Assembly lives on." However, the ANC leader remarked that the Penal Code reform is even more serious considering that it comes from a pact between the government of Spain and that of Catalonia, led by the Republican Left (ERC) party, and that president Pere Aragonès has defended it. "Catalan independence will never be achieved without mobilizations or by criminalizing protest," she warned.
Despite the voices in ERC and Unidas Podemos that have opened the door to presenting amendments during the parliamentary consideration of the reform bill, in order to avoid the criminalization of activism, Feliu points out that the ANC will only be satisfied with one result: for the repeal of sedition to go ahead without touching a single comma elsewhere in the Penal Code. "This must be the only possible purpose", she said, thus rejecting that obtaining some amendments to the hardening of the public disorder crimes is cause for celebration. In addition, she affirmed that the pro-independence organization was one of the first to speak out against the criminalization of protest, and over time other voices have joined this criticism, which has "reinforced the trend".
Appealing to transversal groups
The demonstration this coming Tuesday, which will start at 12 noon in Barcelona's Pla de Palau and culminate in front of the Palau de la Generalitat, where speeches will be given, hopes to attract a wide cross-section of society. In fact, the political parties will also be present. According to the ANC, there will be a delegation of senior leaders from Together for Catalonia (Junts), and the CUP will also join, as it confirmed two weeks ago in a press conference. Even the First of October Collective, ERC's critical wing, will participate, as it has already made known on social media, showing that not all parts of the governing pro-independence party see the proposal with good eyes. Furthermore, the Assembly is confident that the demonstration will have a transversal character, attracting representatives from well beyond the pro-independence world. The ANC has been in communication with broader social movements, such as the housing activism group PAH: the intention is to demonstrate that the reform will affect any type of dissident action.
In fact, on Thursday evening, a broad-based demonstration against the toughening of public disorder offences took place in Barcelona. It was called by around forty social groups, and with the ANC reprisal victims sector also taking part, but it only managed to gather around 350 people according to the Barcelona city police. "On December 6th we must be a suitable large crowd to demonstrate that we do not want to swallow the reform", the Assembly launched with irony. "There have to be a lot of us, people from the ANC and the associations. If we don't get out on the street now, we won't be in time to do it later."