Spanish legal experts critical of state response to referendum

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Legal experts in Spain have harshly criticized the response of the central government and the state attorney general to the independence referendum planned for October 1. In an article in ‘El País’ newspaper on Tuesday, former high court judge, Baltasar Garzón, accused Mariano Rajoy’s government of using legal prosecution as “a weapon” in what he considers “an abusive use of the institutions, especially the courts.”

Nor is Garzón alone in his criticisms of the state authorities. According to the spokesman of an association representing Spanish judges, the attorney general’s actions are “totally disproportionate and putting fundamental rights at risk.” Talking on the Antena 3 television channel, the spokesman for Judges for Democracy (Jueces para la Democracia in Spanish), Ignacio González Vega, said that the attorney general’s comments on ordering the arrest of Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, were “threatening” and merely “add fuel to the fire.”

Garzón, the Spanish judge who in 1998 famously ordered the arrest of Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, was also critical of Spain’s attorney general, José Manuel Maza, who he accused of failing to be guided by the principles of “minimum intervention and proportionality”. “Mister Maza has set aside both, opting for sweeping and preventative action that could contribute to a chain reaction of unforeseen consequences,” wrote Garzón.

Threat of arrest unnecessary, says spokesman

González Vega’s criticisms of the attorney general came during his appearance on the Espejo Público television programme. The spokesman of the professional association representing Spanish judges said of Maza’s threat to arrest Puigdemont: “I do not see the need to make threats of arrest when there is no risk of him fleeing, and when a summons would be enough,” he said.

The spokesman also dismissed the attorney general’s accusations of sedition against the leaders of the demonstrations in Barcelona last week. “The attorney general’s actions are exaggerated; they would be more relevant to an offense against public order,” said González Vega, who accused the attorney general of adopting “an aggressive role” and who he called on to show “good sense”.