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A storm of protest has been unleashed by the Spanish judiciary and the opposition People's Party (PP) after statements made this Friday by Spain's third deputy PM and environmental minister, Teresa Ribera, accusing National Audience judge, Manuel García-Castellón, in charge of the Democratic Tsunami case, of tending to take a particular "direction" in his decisions, which furthermore are made at  "politically sensitive moments". Ribera's comments followed García-Castellón's ruling 24 hours before which insisted on the terrorist theory in the Catalan independence movement-related case, in which exiled Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and ERC general secretary Marta Rovira are being investigated, and which, furthermore, is in the spotlight due to the question of whether it will be covered by the Catalan amnesty bill, currently in parliamentary process. The responses from conservative voices in the Spanish judiciary were not long in coming, with the conservative sector of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) calling for a special meeting over the statements, while three associations of judges asserted that the senior minister's statements were "inadmissable", and the political leadership of the PP accused the Sánchez government of assuming the arguments of the pro-independence parties.      

In an interview this Friday on Spanish public television, Ribera was asked about the judge's decision to dismiss the appeal presented by prosecutors in the case and, instead, elevate it to the Supreme Court for its investigation as a terrorism crime, involving Puigdemont, Rovira and ten others. The senior government figure began her reply by noting the importance of respecting the separation of powers "as one of the fundamental principles of coexistence and the Constitution, including respect for the judiciary and judges". However, she also stressed that this did not prevent her from seeing that, "there are some institutional representatives of the judiciary who have a certain tendency to always pronounce themselves in the same direction and at a particularly opportune moment in comparison with, on the other hand, the types of pronouncements from other colleagues in the judicial branch".

Unacceptable to make "veiled accusations" against judge

The three conservative associations of Spanish judges all spoke out this Friday in protest at Teresa Ribera's statements. The Professional Judges Association (APM), largest professional association of judges stated that it was "inadmissible" in a state of law that a member of the government made "veiled accusations of abuse of authority" against a judge. In its statement, the APM has conveyed that it is "enormously sad that the government itself assumes the discourse of those who speak of lawfare and the judicialization of politics". For their part, the Francisco de Vitoria Judicial Association (AJFV) and the Independent Judicial Forum (FJI) called on the Spanish government to respect the work of judges. Sergio Oliva, spokesperson for the AJFV noted that "the timing of justice does not depend on the judges". Later this afternoon, sources close to the CGPJ reported that judges in the majority conservative sector of the judicial governance body had demanded a meeting of its permanent committee to consider the matter.  

In addition, the opposition PP will use its majority in Spain's upper house to censure the deputy PM and ecological transition minister. The conservatives demanded that the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, "disavow" her and "rectify" her words, considering it "extremely serious" that Ribera hinted that the judge had political motivations for insisting on the "terrorism" line in the Democratic Tsunami case. Apart from the reprimand, the PP will also force the appearance of Ribera at the Senate plenary session "so that she can explain the policies of her deputy premiership and ministerial department".

The Spanish government moderates Ribera's statements

In response to the minister's comments, the Pedro Sánchez cabinet has reiterated its institutional respect for the judiciary and for the independence of judges. Sources from the executive emphasized that the government always respects the decisions of the judiciary even if, sometimes, it does not share some of them. The same sources point out that the final decision adopted by judge García-Castellón will "of course" be respected by the Spanish government, which assures that it will defend judges from any interference in their work, "also from attempts to do so by the PP".