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Jailed former minister predicts 'social and political' response if Catalan leaders found guilty

In an interview with ACN, Quim Forn says hunger strike by himself and three other leaders is having an "impact" in foreign media

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19 December 2018 12:47 PM

by

ACN | Barcelona

Former minister Quim Forn insists there will be a major "social and political" response should he and other pro-independence leaders in custody be found guilty in their upcoming trial.

In an interview with the Catalan News Agency (ACN), the former home affairs minister, who responded in writing from Lledoners prison, also spoke about the hunger strike by himself and three other prisoners.

The protest is making an impact in the foreign media, Forn insists, and he adds that he will  abandon it "once our aims have been achieved." Four of the imprisoned leaders are on a hunger strike to protest the "inaction" of the Constitutional Court in processing their appeals.

The role of relatives of the prisoners is key in explaining the situation in Catalonia to the wider world. How do things look from Lledoners?

Our family members have a very important role. They have had to act as our voice, the responsibility of explaining what we are going through has fallen to them. It has not been easy for them.

With Christmas coming, do you expect the protests showing solidarity with you outside the prison to increase?

There have been constant protests outside the prison since we arrived. Every day they wish us "good night," it is especially busy at the weekends, but I would say that almost every day we get people who want to show us their displeasure. From the prison yard we can hear their shouts of "freedom." It is very moving for us.

 

  • "We get constant medical attention. Our symptoms are those to be expected from a hunger strike, but we are mentally strong"

    Joaquim Forn · Former Catalan minister

You started a hunger strike on December 4, along with [former territory minister] Josep Rull. How are you doing? And the rest of the prisoners also on hunger strike?

We are well enough. We get constant medical attention. Our symptoms are those to be expected from a hunger strike, but we are mentally strong.

How long do you intend to keep it going, bearing in mind the medical advice?

We have not decided yet. The aim of the hunger strike is to protest the inaction of the Constitutional Court blocking our access to European courts. Since we began the hunger strike, the Constitutional Court has begun to process some of our appeals; our decision has had an impact in the foreign media, and we have stirred consciences in Catalonia, Spain and Europe. Once we consider our aims to be achieved will be the moment to abandon it.

Do you think if the prisoners connected to ERC [political ally of Forn's party] join the hunger strike that your demands would gain in strength?

We never saw the strike as a political party issue. It is not the parties that are taking this action, it is the prisoner who decided to start a hunger strike. It is a personal decision. The parties give us support, but the decision is down to each person.

What difficulties have you encountered in preparing your defense?

We have come across a few obstacles, but the biggest problem will come when the trial begins. We are looking at three or four months of having to travel every day from the prison we are in to the court. We will have to get up every day before six in the morning, and then we will be transported in handcuffs in a van, and will not return to the prison until well into the evening. It will be difficult to talk with our lawyers. That worries us because it does not guarantee a fair trial.

Empty chairs at a convention by the Catalan National Assembly, in solidarity with jailed pro-independence leaders (by Maria Belmez)

Has it been difficult to meet with your lawyers to prepare for the trial?

Here in Lledoners we are allowed to meet with our lawyers in a private room. In the Estremera prison I couldn't do that. Some colleagues did manage to do so just before being transferred to Catalonia.

Do all the prisoners coordinate, or does each person make their own arrangements with their lawyers?

We coordinate between us, as do the lawyers. Once a week all seven of us meet and we deal with the issues that affect us all.

Have you decided what you will tell the court?

Our defense will be technical and political. I always say that with the criminal code in hand, acquittal is the only possible verdict; there is no reason for us to be charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Organising a referendum is no longer an offense in the criminal code. That is why we have to be aware that there are non-legal reasons underlying the charges. Judge Llarena [who oversaw the preliminary hearings], in one of his rulings denying my conditional release, admitted that one of the reasons was because I had not renounced my ideology in favor of Catalonia's independence.

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont (center) acoompanied by some of his ministers during a press conference in Brussels (by REUTERS/Yves Herman)Do you think that you will only find justice in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)?

I have not given up on any of the proceedings we are involved in. I do not go to the Supreme Court with a defeatist attitude. On Saturday, all nine prisoners published an article. We state that we will not go to trial to surrender or renounce anything. We all go with our heads held high. Yet, it is also true that we have more confidence in European justice and we do not reject going there whenever it is possible. The ECHR will not go into the details but will rule on guaranteeing the proceedings and that our rights be respected in the trial.

What should be the political response to a guilty verdict? Should there be various plans depending on how the verdict pans out?

There will be political and social responses. I have no doubt about that. I do not like to anticipate what might happen, I do not want to assume a guilty verdict, doing so would be to make things easier for them, it seems to me. However, should there be a guilty verdict, the public will not just sit there with arms folded. It would be a guilty verdict without legal basis, and difficult to understand, not only for the independence movement, but for any democrat. Any response should include this large social majority that believes that Catalonia should be able to decide its political future and that condemns our imprisonment.

Would calling an early Catalan election be a good response?

I don't see it. We will decide once there is a verdict, but I would prefer us to concentrate now on strengthening the institutions and governing.

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  • Jailed former Catalan minister Joaquim Forn (by Guillem Roset)

  • Jailed former Catalan minister Joaquim Forn (by Guillem Roset)