Three Catalan MPs who witnessed the events at the Barcelona protest on September 20th which led Catalan pro-independence leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart to be arrested have written their account of exactly what happened in an article for El Nacional. Lluís Llach, Jordi Orobitg and Roger Torrent, representatives for the Junts pel Sí coalition were present at the offices of the Catalan Ministry of Economy in Barcelona on the night of 20th-21st September while Sànchez and Cuixart, leaders of the ANC and Omnium Cultural respectively, were talking to Civil Guard officers about the departure of the judicial delegation that was inside the ministry building, given that there were demonstrators gathered outside. The article describes the concern of the two pro-independence leaders to ensure that events remained calm and peaceful as well as their offer to guarantee that the delegation would be able to leave without any incidents. “The police command rejected the idea. But at the very moment that it was proposed, they gave their thanks for the attitude of our civic leaders”, explain the MPs.
On Monday, 16th October, a judge at Spain's High Court sent the two leaders to prison, accusing them of “inciting the crowd”, and of acting in a way that was “aimed at preventing the application of the law and of the resolutions ordered by an authority in the implementation of a judicial procedure, as a means to promote and ensure the holding of the illegal referendum on independence from Spain, this being in contravention of the Spanish Constitution”.
The three MPs, Llach, Orobitg and Torrent, had been present outside the door of the Ministry from the early morning when the Civil Guard first started its searches, until the hours after midnight that night. From there they were able to see how volunteers from the two organizations ANC and Òmnium maintained the security cordon to protect the ability to enter and exit the building, and they witnessed the calls made to the assembled public to maintain calm and serenity, and the concern with maintaining order. “It was ensured that nobody suffered or felt threatened. Nobody. We repeat: nobody”.
Cuixart and Sànchez were constantly present –“fortunately”, adds the MP's account-, and “used all their energy to protect the integrity of everything and of everybody”. “They even asked the people who were grouped around the Civil Guard vehicles (both demonstrators and journalists) to leave them. We heard them ask those who had got on top of the police vehicles to get down”, they explain.
Leaving without incidents
“And then night fell. And the judicial search being made inside was completed. And both the Jordis, Sànchez and Cuixart, were concerned to see how they could guarantee that the Civil Guard and the judicial delegation could leave without incidents”, adds the MPs' account.
They were tense moments while looking for a formula that allowed the situation to be overcome. At this point, the MPs themselves also entered the building to accompany Sànchez and Cuixart in the conversations with the police command.
“Several options were proposed. We, the MPs, even offered our services if required. If it was necessary, we would help to maintain order using our bodies as protection”, explains the account.
Dispersing the crowd
In the face of the decision by the police command to reject the proposals offered, the MPs explain that the two pro-independence leaders concluded that the only way to ensure the safe departure of those inside and also to avoid police charges was to try to disperse the crowd.
They recall that it was not an easy decision, to go before thousands of people who were in an indignant mood and ask them that they leave. The MPs' account asserts that they had to be brave and responsible to do that, “but they did it”.
“And they asked the MPs who were there, from the pro-independence groups Junts pel Sí and the CUP, if we could help them make the appeal to the public. They thought that we could exert the influence needed to give support to their call”, add the MPs.
Thus, Sànchez and Cuixart then climbed onto the Civil Guard vehicles, megaphones in hand, and requested the assembled crowd to leave. “It seems to them [the authorities], that this image is a demonstration of everything they want to prove about the two leaders. But they didn't listen. They didn't listen to what was said. Not even a word”, the account of the three MPs explains, assuring that both men played key roles “in a great act of civic responsibility”.
This is, in short, a very different version to that summed up in the judge's account, which affirms that “no message was given to the crowd nor was anything communicated to them in any other way that the official vehicles in which the judicial commission arrived at Rambla Catalunya should not be subject to force, nor that the departure of the members of the commission should be facilitated”.
According to the judge's text, Cuixart and Sànchez assured that they could “move” the gathered protesters but “they never accepted the conditions that the law and order specialists proposed to avoid or reduce the risks” and "they never used the power they had over the crowd to call off the assembly”.
The judge's interlocutory order argues that “on top of a Civil Guard car, they made a call for permanent mobilization from that day on to support the referendum and oppose the actions ordered judicially to prevent it”.