‘I feel like I’m not free,’ says minister after leaving prison
In an interview with the Catalan News Agency, Dolors Bassa recalls her time in prison and why she won’t return to her government role
Dolors Bassa, Labour minister of the deposed Catalan government, has been out of prison for thirteen days; yet, she does not feel free. “I feel a threat hanging above me, because they can still request up to 30 years in prison,” she explained, in an interview with the Catalan News Agency (ACN).
Bassa and the rest of the Catalan government were deposed as one of the measures of Article 155, when Madrid seized Catalonia’s self-rule. Dolors Bassa, along with eight of her colleagues, was sent to prison, and was only recently afforded the option to pay bail. She is indignant, she said, that her two colleagues (vice president Oriol Junqueras and Home Affairs minister Joaquim Forn) remain incarcerated without bail, along with the two civil society leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart.
“The letters were what helped the most, because they brought the outside reality into the prison”
Dolors Bassa · minister of Labour
The minister admits to being “afraid,” but also to feeling “proud” of belonging to the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana party (ERC), through which she is running as an official for the northern Catalan town of Girona. But, if ERC wins the elections, Bassa revealed she will not return as a minister. “After what I went through,” she said, “I don’t feel like it, my body is asking me not to.”
“It’s very important” that pro-independence entities win in this upcoming election, Dolors Bassa stated, adding that the vote is about “a plan” and not about “a president.” She also criticized the Carles Puigdemont Together for Catalonia ticket, for accusing ERC of “legitimizing” Article 155 by proposing jailed vice president Oriol Junqueras as candidate to the presidency. She said, “they also accepted Article 155, by presenting themselves to the elections.”
“The hardest” moment of her life
The minister recalled that November 3, the day when she testified before the Spanish National Court and was put in handcuffs, was “the hardest” moment of her life. “That’s when I knew I was going to prison,” she said. From the court proceedings, she remembers two details especially well.
One, that the presiding Judge Carmen Lamela “didn’t even look (her) in the face” but instead spent the whole time on her mobile phone. The second was the only question her defense lawyer asked her: whether she was a person who believed in violence. “Listen, I’m a Christian school teacher; inasmuch, you understand that there’s no way I do,” she remembers answering.
Next came the feeling of “humiliation,” Bassa recalled, from when she was handcuffed until she arrived at the prison cell where she would spend the next 33 days. She describes the “bad conditions” of both the holding cell and the van where she was brought to the correctional facility as a “brutal way to humiliate” her and her colleagues. “This is obvious, because the day we went to testify in the Spanish Supreme Court, the situation was very different,” she explained.
Support from Meritxell Borràs and letters from the outside
Sharing a cell with minister Meritxell Borràs helped, she said. “Right away we supported each other,” she remembered, when talking about the eight-by-eight-meter cell they shared for 16 hours a day. At some point, she said, authorities asked the two women if they wanted to be separated, but they refused. “We needed one another,” Bassa stated. Additionally, the many letters they received were what “helped the most,” noted the minister, “because they brought the outside reality into the prison.”
“Adapting to everything”
Bassa’s life in prison also included a daily walk in the courtyard, back and forth, every day, 4 kilometers each time. As she was a teacher, she also started helping some of the convicts to work towards getting a diploma or school certificate. She also, along with Borràs, “adapted to everything,” she said, in what was asked of them in prison: they both cleaned what they were supposed to (her, the halls and Borràs the windows). She recalled how some prison workers were surprised at their diligence: “they thought that we would act ‘high and mighty’ and they saw that it wasn’t the case.”