SYMBOLIC empty chairs in the Placa Major of Viladrau, a village of 1000 souls nestling in the mountains of Monteny in the province of Girona. Each one representing a politician arrested by Spain and held without trial.

The number includes one of their own, Joaquim Forn, the Catalan interior minister sacked by Mariano Rajoy after his government took over the running of Catalonia.

As interior minister, Forn was responsible for the department in charge of the Mossos d’Esquadra – the Catalan police – the Corps of Firefighters of Catalonia, and other emergency services. He and his family have been coming to Viladrau every summer for many years and the local community has come together to offer them – and the others jailed ministers – support in some form.

Forn’s sister Marta and brother-in-law Alejandro Scherk told The National they were concerned about the conditions in which he was being kept and the psychological torture prison guards had allegedly inflicted on him and the others.

“What we do know is that the journey in the police van to the jail was not proper,” said Scherk.

“It was quite brutal because they handcuffed them from behind and there was no seatbelt. The van was going very fast, so they were very bruised by the time they got to the jail.”

He confirmed other reports suggesting elements of abuse while in transit, such as the Spanish national anthem being played on a loop, coupled with veiled threats from their captors.

Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, lawyer for the imprisoned ministers, said they were preparing a complaint about the “unjustifiably vexatious” treatment their clients suffered on their way to jail.

He said two of them were ordered to strip “as if they were drug traffickers, to avoid them carrying anything”, and one – sacked justice minister Carles Mundo – suffered injuries because of the handcuffs.

One Spanish newspaper has posted a video online, showing Spanish National Police officers making fun of the ministers and making sneering, homophobic comments as they arrived in court. One referred to vice-president Oriol Junqueras as “a little teddy bear”.

Alonso-Cuevillas described the conversation as “sad and outrageous”, adding: “The worst is that I have not heard any official reaction yet. In any normal country, the home affairs minister would have resigned immediately.”

Scherk added: “I think the conditions in the jail don’t seem to be bad, but the transport was bad.

“The families of the imprisoned are creating smaller committees with civil entities to organise activities to help them and their families and to get money for their legal needs.

“Probably next week we will have a single voice representing all these people to denounce this situation.

“Yesterday, Mr Forn’s wife Laura and their two daughters went to see him in prison. Laura told us that he is fine, but the visiting conditions are very restrictive, and mobiles are not allowed, although we can write them freely. All of them would be very grateful to receive letters giving them moral support.”

In a series of social media messages, Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras remained defiant: “If the price of freedom is prison, we will never give up on freedom.”

Joaquim Forn Chiariel.lo

NIS 2017014565

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Centro Penitenciario Madrid VII


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