Aamer Anwar (Liverpool, 1967) took on the defence of Catalan minister Clara Ponsatí against Spain's extradition demand because he wanted to do something to help the Catalans in their cause. Anwar, named as Scotland's 2017 lawyer of the year, came to Catalonia a year ago to take part in a Catalan Summer University conference and, by sheer coincidence, was in Barcelona's Rambla on 17th August at the moment when a van driver perpetrated the terror attack that killed 14 people. He says that he escaped being hurt by a matter of seconds.
Months later he was requested to mount the legal defence of the former Catalan minister and he rapidly accepted. It is clear to him that the fight against the European arrest warrant is not easy because it is a David versus Goliath situation, but he is optimistic and is determined to fight all the way. His objective, apart from ensuring that Ponsatí does not have to return to Spain and face what he considers "a death penalty", is to expose Spain in the eyes of Europe. In the last few days he has been back in Barcelona to take part in the Summer University once again, and it's there that he was interviewed by El Nacional.
How is the extradition process going?
Last Thursday we had a procedural hearing. After three months the crown prosecutor had finally said that he had found an equivalent crime to the Spanish offence of rebellion, which does not exist in either Scottish law, or Belgian or German law, and that equivalent is the crime of treason. After three months, a month before the final hearing starts, we know what she is accused of. We go to court on 30th July and it will last at least a month, possibly even longer.
33 years of prison when you are 61 years old is, effectively, a death sentence. She would probably take her last breath in a prison.
A month ago it was announced that you were considering calling Mariano Rajoy or other Spanish ex-ministers to court in Edinburgh. Is this idea still on the table?
We are still considering it. The question is, who would we cite? Just Rajoy, or also the ministers of finance, justice, the head of the police... Who do we not call? Because many of them have made prejudicial statements. But all these people have pronounced the guilt of the Catalan leaders, and we can use these statements in court. It shows they are unlikely to get a fair trial in Spain. In Scotland, the first minister Nicola Sturgeon refuses to comment on Clara Ponsatí's case, because it is the legal system that has to resolve it. But in Spain, everybody has something to say. Moreover, I suspect that if we cite them, they won't come. Believe me, if they come, we will hold them to account, we will say: "What have you done? What have you done in the name of justice?"
How could Germany's decision on the European arrest warrant for Puigdemont affect your case?
We have a separate judiciary so technically speaking it should not have any influence. However, if Puigdemont is not extradited in Germany, we will point to the fact that neither Belgium nor Germany have accepted it. And we will try to use it. But at the end of the day the judicial systems are different and people have to fight judicially, separately. If in the end they did extradite Puigdemont, we would still fight. But clearly it does have an impact. Puigdemont was in custody before in Germany, and we managed to get Clara Ponsatí out on bail.
Are you optimistic? Do you believe you will win the case?
I am always an optimist. We are determined to fight, we do see this as a battle of David versus Goliath. The Spanish state has unlimited resources. We are very conscious of the fact that if we lose the case for Clara, she faces 33 years of prison. and 33 years of prison when you are 61 years old is, effectively, a death sentence. She would probably take her last breath in a prison. That's not acceptable in any democratic, civilized part of the world. So I am very conscious that we have a huge responsibility. We have to make sure that we fight every step of the way. However, I have to say that the Spanish government and authorities keep helping us, because every day they do something new.
What are you referring to?
Previously Mariano Rajoy's government, now Pedro Sánchez's government, every day they do something which shows that this process is not fair, that this is a political prosecution, they cannot guarantee a fair trial. That if Clara returned to Spain, there would be an abuse of her human rights, there is no due process. And from day one, I have said that Spain stands accused of abusing the European arrest warrant. It was created to deal with serious criminals, to deal with killers, rapists and drug dealers. Instead, they have used it for political pursuit and prosecution across Europe.
Spain's PP and PSOE are both on the same side of the coin. Some are conservatives and the others socialists but when it comes to Catalonia, they are the same
Do you see the government of Sánchez as the same as that of Rajoy?
I've now become a student of Catalan politics and I have realised that the socialist party is the same side of the coin as Rajoy's party. One lot are conservatives and the others socialists but when it comes to Catalonia, they are the same. Pedro Sánchez says that he is a democrat and that there can only be a political solution, not a judicial solution. That's the only thing on which I agree with Pedro Sánchez. He's right, there can only be a political solution to this, not a judicial solution.
Can a political solution be found when there are prisoners and exiles?
At the end of the day if I win the case for Clara Ponsatí, she remains in political exile... She is 61 years old, her mother is 91 years old and lives in Barcelona and she has a son that also lives there. She wants to come home, she wants to walk her streets again, to see her friends and her family. She does not want to remain a political exile for the rest of her life. It's a disgrace, a shame and an insult to democracy, to Spain being a democracy, that there should be the term 'political exile', or 'political prisoner' - as a matter of fact, people use the term 'political prisoners', I use the term 'political hostages'.
Negotiating in the current situation, when there are political prisoners and exiles, is like agreeing to do so with a gangster who is holding your children hostage
If a gangster came into my house and beat me up, took my TV, my jewellery, my watches, and took my children as hostages and put a gun to their heads and then time went by, and he still had a gun to my children's heads and then he said to me "let's sit down at a table, have a cup of tea, let's discuss business, let's negotiate when I will leave your house”, then I would say that's not negotiation. That's blackmail, terrorism, fascism. It's an identical situation - as long as there are political hostages. It's not democracy, not justice, it's an abuse of the process. Until they release the political hostages and drop the arrest warrants, without conditions, then there can be negotiations. When Puigdemont or Ponsatí can come back home, a true discussion can take place, they will then be equal partners. Otherwise it looks like a gangster with a gun, holding your children hostage.
To negotiate, is it necessary that the prisoners are freed, then?
Yesterday I was in Manresa and a few miles aways was the prison the political prisoners have just been moved to, and I was confused because I said, "well, they're not in Spain now, they're in Catalonia”. So now it looks to me as if the Spanish government might say “oh, we have no political prisoners, it's Catalonia!" But it comes back to Sánchez and he has to be told "you make the choice, you're the democrat, if you are different from Rajoy, if you want peace and justice and to restore the name of Spain in the international community, then release the prisoners, you have the keys, open the doors, let them come home".
The Spanish government might say “Oh, we have no political prisoners, now it's Catalonia! You can no longer say, free the political prisoners"
Do you believe that Sánchez will change this situation?
I am an optimist, but also a cynic. I am cynical about the record of the Socialists in their treatment of the Catalans. For example, the Socialists just a few weeks ago proposed modifying the offence of rebellion to make it applicable without violence being involved. This strikes me as a doubles standard and hypocrisy. Clara Ponsatí and Carles Puigdemont peacefully promoted a referendum and face 33 years of prison. The 'wolf pack', La Manada, raped a woman - they were found not guilty of violence, but of sexual abuse - and they have been released on bail after being sentenced to 9 years of prison. And you have to ask, what is more serious? Do you consider that this violence against a woman is not serious? This seems to me to show double standards.
And how can it change?
In terms of hope, all this gives an opportunity for the Spanish Government to say we need to change the way we act if we want to be recognized as a democracy adhering to the rule of the law. The opportunity is there. They don't need to wait to see what Germany, Belgium or Scotland say. It's already exposed. Everybody asks the question: “What, how can they say she carried out rebellion, with violence?" There is no evidence that Clara Ponsatí has incited or instigated violence at any polling station. In 52 pages of the warrant, not one scrap of evidence. The only violence that we saw was the violence by the police.
However, she is accused of rebellion, which implies violence...
Clara is an esteemed academic, a professor, she has devoted her whole life to academia and then she did her duty and went back and became Catalan minister of education. How is that a criminal offence? It is time that the Spanish government understood that if you talk about a political solution instead of a judicial one, then under international law it's not a criminal offence for people to express their willl to self-determination. If you want to be recognized internationally as a democracy you have to accept the international treaties and this is a right accepted around the world. You can't make it a criminal offence because it suits you. The ball is now in the court of Sánchez. If he is a socialist - and I am a socialist - you can't have political prisoners, you can't deny people their right to vote.
The argument is that in Spain the law does not allow it.
How can it be that voting is breaking the law? In Scotland we have the right to vote. If Spain has confidence in its union, in its unity, then let the Catalan people decide. They're not children, this is not a colony. If they believe that Spain is united, then let Catalonia decide. And if they're right? I'm not happy that we, Scottish independence, lost the referendum, but I am happy that we had the chance to vote. And probably one day we will have the opportunity to vote again. Because that's the right in a democracy.
It's almost as if General Franco is sitting in his grave dictating to the Spanish politicians, the police, the military, the authorities and the legal system: "This is what you must do"
Is voting for the independence of a country a right?
In a democracy there is nothing illegal about voting. What is wrong with people in Catalonia voting? What are they scared of? Are the Spanish authorities scared of losing? If you allow Catalonia to have its own Parliament then you have to recognize, that at this point in time the majority in parliament is pro-independence and that the people gave the majority to these parties to carry out an independence referendum. They didn't ban the independence parties, they didn't say they were illegal, they didn't ban voting for the pro-independence parties. They had a mandate to hold the referendum. You gave Catalonia its Parliament, now let Catalonia decide.
The pro-independence has a majority in seats but not in votes.
The independence parties have a majority in Parliament. They have it now and they had it before. In spite of everything that Rajoy did, the independence parties won again. The Catalan president is pro-independence and Parliament is too. They let them stand in the elections. If this was illegal, why didn't they ban them? Did they think that they would win? They lost. That's democracy, sometimes you win and sometimes not. In Scotland we lost and we accepted it. Next time we will try harder. Spain should say: "We lost, so let the people decide".
Why do you think that Spain has behaved like this?
It's almost as if General Franco is sitting in his grave dictating to the Spanish politicians, the police, the military, the authorities and the legal system - this is what you do. Franco did not just die and then people said, look we have democracy. He created a structure to make sure that his legacy would continue not for 10 years, but for 30, 40 or even 100 years. That legacy hasn't been resolved, because in any another country in the world, when democracy arrives and the dictatorship finishes, one of the first things that you do is prosecute the dictator, the torturers and the executioners. Reconciliation only comes through exposure of the torturers and what they did wrong. And you tear up what they did. The dictator does not have the right to set up the constitution or to say we will set up a political party and they will then carry it on. That seems to me to be the problem at the heart of Spain, that everything flows from what Franco left behind. You can say the name of democracy, but everything flows from Franco.
When you send three ships full of riot police into Barcelona - it is as if the new Spanish armada has arrived, like an occupation
And how could that have affected Catalonia?
This means that when something like this happens, they call it the Catalan crisis, then automatically the state acts almost as Franco would have acted. When you send three ships full of riot police into Barcelona - it is as if the new Spanish armada has come. What message are you giving to the Catalan people? You send thousands of police officers, they sing Franco songs, it's like an occupation. It's as if a military force came to say, listen to us because if you don't do what we want, we'll use force, violence. If you don't listen to us, then we'll lock up your politicians afterwards and we'll "decaptitate” your parties. That is the language of violence and aggression.
What do you think of the silence of the European Union?
Silence, when you see an injustice or an abuse of human rights, is not an option. It is deeply shameful. They should remember why the EU came into being. It arose out of the 1940s. What happened to the Jews, to the homosexuals... The cry that rose up was 'never again'. Now, once more on the streets Europe you see shadows of fascism, you see violence being used... You can't just speak up about this when it happens in other countries and remain silent when it happens here. The job of politicians is to be politicians. Silence means complicity.
Before the question was if Catalonia would become independent, the question now is when. The same goes for Scotland
Next week there is a meeting between Catalan president Quim Torra and Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon. What do you expect from that?
In the meeting with Sturgeon, Clara's case will not be argued. Our first minister cannot interfere in a legal process. That's something for the judges. We have an independent judicial system and to interfere would be wrong. We have to trust our judges and their independence, that's an important signal and an important message to give.
However, the Scottish National Party has spoken up for the Catalan referendum and called for the liberation of the prisoners.
Yes, and I am proud of Sturgeon and our government. The last congress of the SNP voted unanimously to support Clara's defence and the Catalan struggle. Sturgeon is the leader who has spoken out most in support of the Catalans. People ask me if I believe it's possible for Catalonia to become independent. I don't think it's if, it's when. The question is when Catalonia will be independent. Before it was if, now I think it's when. The same applies to Scotland.
Could you imagine that in Scotland a referendum could turn out like that in Catalonia? With violence and prisoners?
If tomorrow Sturgeon called another referendum and Theresa May said they couldn't do it, and the Scottish first minister said she was going to go ahead anyway because she had a mandate, and then if Theresa May sent 15,000 uniformed policemen and locked up half the cabinet and the other half left and went to, say, Barcelona, Belgium and Germany... then people would be outraged and would say that this was not democracy, you can't do this. I don't believe that they would do it. It's unbelievable that it would happen. That's why we believe in our democracy and the rule of law. Because these things only happen in a dictatorship. When the past is not resolved. I don't believe that in Scotland, Wales or England this could happen - but if it did happen we would be independent the very next day. There would be 99% support for independence. Scots would say: "Don't tell us what to think, you can't use violence".
It would be impossible for May to send 15,000 policemen to stop a Scottish referendum. These things only happen in a dictatorship, but if it did happen, the following day Scotland would be independent
And how is your independence process going?
The people in Scotland are now saying "Don't treat us like children’. They promised us that if we stayed, we would remain in the European Union and that is not the situation. In a year or more, there will be another referendum and this time we will win. If we win, it will be an inspiration for the Catalans, the same as the Catalans have been one for us. We learn lessons from one another.