Aamer Anwar: “Clara Ponsatí is probably the bravest woman I’ve ever met”

  • Interview with the Scottish lawyer about Clara Ponsatí and the situation of the Catalan independence movement, which he knows closely.

Andreu Barnils
01.04.2023 - 15:47
Actualització: 01.04.2023 - 15:58

Aamer Anwar was, for a time, Clara Ponsatí’s lawyer in Scotland, and although he no longer holds that role, he continues to stay in touch with the Catalan MEP and closely follows the Catalan independence movement. He has friends in Catalonia and visits the country from time to time. VilaWeb interviewed him on Thursday via videoconference to assess the arrest and subsequent release of Clara Ponsatí. But also wanted to know his views on Catalan politics, the case of Laura Borràs, and the attitude of Spanish President Pedro Sánchez. This Scottish lawyer’s response can be summarized as follows: it is the people, rather than the politicians, who have the power to change things.

-How did you see the arrest of Clara Ponsatí on Tuesday in Barcelona?
-I can only describe it as politically motivated persecution. If I’m honest, this woman is probably the bravest woman I’ve ever met. She has been in political exile for five years for a crime that, in my opinion, doesn’t exist in most modern democracies. The crime of sedition, the crime of disobedience. It is not a crime to fight for freedom. Clara has faced exile, returned to the country, and now the Spanish state, knowing she has political immunity, detains her? And on what basis do they do it? They already know that someone like Clara, a MEP, has immunity. And this means that her arrest cannot be allowed. A few years ago, I think it was in 2018, I attended the Diada and said that the Spanish state would set a trap for the independence movement. These are the tactics that Spain has used in the last hundred years: they will arrest your politicians, threaten your politicians and they will stop the movement. They will start one legal case and then another, and another, in order to obstruct, delay, and create a climate of fear. It happened with the political prisoners: people forgot what happened on October 1st. The Spanish state succeeded because they diverted attention solely and exclusively to the political prisoners. A very good tactic. But I think it’s a foolish tactic because I know Clara Ponsatí. She is probably one of the few people who has kept the independence movement alive with her fight in exile. And now she returns and they decide to arrest her.

-In your opinion, what is the position of the European Parliament and the European Union?
-I think they are hypocrites, and they have double standards. It’s all very well to talk about China and talk about Russia. But when a country like Spain abuses international law, abuses human rights, abuses the legal system itself, then what? I already talked about the ghost of Franco, which still sets the pace. Let me use a parallel example. If Adolf Hitler had not committed suicide and had been allowed to continue in some kind of shadow role and personally select and choose a royal family to enter into power, what? And if he had personally chosen his own judges, what? People would say it’s unacceptable. However, General Franco was a friend of Adolf Hitler. General Franco was a fascist. General Franco participated in genocides, killings, and the abuse of human rights. Nothing was done about it. So you still have, in the dark shadows of the Spanish state, those people and organizations that for generations go back to General Franco. I think the European Union has never dealt with these issues. When Pedro Sánchez talks about democracy, it makes me laugh: democracy for whom? Democracy for a certain group of people, but not for the Catalans. From the European Union, I would have expected them to say, after October 1st, let’s impose sanctions, this is unacceptable. At the end of the day, people in any country have the right to decide their own freedom. This is fundamental.

-Pedro Sánchez can always go to Europe and say, okay, this was on October 1st, under Mariano Rajoy’s watch. But now I come and pardon them.
-I always suspected the pardons. While the prisoners were in prison, they were still a focus. What is the best way to deal with it? By pardoning them. You don’t say they didn’t do anything wrong, but you pardon them. And the label of killer still remains. So, again, it’s a good tactic. That’s why I don’t accept the pardon. Now, I also completely understand it. It’s easy enough for people like us, when we’re outside of prison, to say, you know, oh, I would do this and do that. When you’re in prison and facing a ten, fifteen or twenty-year sentence, then you focus completely on your own situation. And that’s what they wanted. That’s why Clara Ponsatí is dangerous for them. They are afraid of people like Clara Ponsatí. Why? Because she is extremely intelligent and has a good tactic and strategy and knows what mistakes were made and what should be done.

-What is your opinion on the Catalan independence movement beyond Clara Ponsatí?
-Sadly, what I predicted has come true. I said: don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, because the Spanish state has the same formula. Every time they imprison, execute, exile, and decapitate the independence movement. They divert attention. So the movement is stagnant. It seems like everyone is fighting with each other. Everyone considers themselves the best fighter for independence. There is a lack of unity. And one thing I don’t see in this picture, and that has always been the key for me, is the power of the people. Where are the people? Politicians are politicians. At the end of the day, all politicians say the same thing. My friend Humza Yousaf has just become the First Minister of Scotland and is a defender of Catalonia. But at the end of the day, politicians have their own agenda. They have officials who control them. They have to follow rules. But it’s outside of that where the real power in Catalonia lies. And the power was the people. And the power of the people has not been used. I still remember during the Diada that there were 6.7 million people watching it. There were one and a half million people in the streets. And then, everyone got on the buses and left. I had never seen anything like it. It was incredible. When I went to the presidential palace and talked to the politicians, I said, but what have you done? What was the plan? Half of your politicians are in exile, and the other half are in prison. Why didn’t you use the people? And they said, what do you mean? You didn’t give them a plan. And it’s fine, and with all due respect, to have a demonstration outside the prison and everyone brings their guitars. But that doesn’t open the door to the prison or advance the independence movement, because in the end, people get tired.

-What are they getting tired of?
-I think they’re tired of their leaders. They’re tired of Spain. They’re tired of the arguments, and now we’re facing the biggest cost of living crisis. There are financial problems. People are worried about security. So the last thing people are thinking about now is getting into another battle with the Spanish state. In this sense, Spain has succeeded. The independence movement has stopped. The independence movement has divided. Leaders are fighting with each other. Everyone thinks they are better than the others. Everyone thinks they should lead the movement. And if they want to move forward, then they need to ask the people. The people are the ones who can move this forward. I have seen little involvement from the labor movement, for example. Why aren’t they included in the collaboration? Why not? Where is the plan? I suspect that now many years will pass. Some people, your politicians, will probably say that I am outside and, therefore, I cannot know that. But I will tell you that a person who has a good idea is Clara because she has been watching it. She has been analyzing it. She has been a strategist. She still has the respect of the movement, a respect that others have wasted. I think she is extremely brave.

—Let me ask you about a current case that we may know the outcome of today [interview conducted on Thursday]. It’s the case of Laura Borràs.
—You have a Catalan parliament. You choose your politicians, but it’s a facade. Why? Because if Spain doesn’t like them, they detain your leaders, humiliate them, interrogate them. Then they bring a case against them, regardless of whether the case is ridiculous or not. And ultimately, they try to prosecute them. I’m concerned to see that, once again, another leader of your country has been treated this way. It’s shocking. Laura Borràs has my full support. You spend years fighting these accusations, and in the meantime, you’re suspended from office or have to pay fines or extortion. Again, this means that nobody is focusing on the independence movement.

—A few weeks ago, you said that you suspected your phone had been hacked.
—I have to say that my phone and the phone of Dr. Claire Mitchell, who is one of the main members of our team, have been changing regularly since we took on the case of Clara Ponsatí. We heard voices on the other side, there was always something wrong. It’s a price we pay. Most people say, oh, that’s shocking. That’s scandalous. But it’s not as shocking as the fact that Spain participated in the dirty war for years. Spain regularly assassinated and incriminated individuals. Spain executed, imprisoned, and tortured people, and nothing was done about it. Now Spain hacks the phones of politicians. Why are people surprised? And yes, this is not acceptable. But, going back to it, what is the European Union doing? Nothing. Why? Probably because most of them do it too.

—Do you think that?
—Absolutely. Great Britain does it. France does it. Let’s not be so naive. They regularly hack devices and monitor people they consider problematic, who they see as a thorn in the establishment, people they believe could reveal state secrets.

—Some people thought Catalonia would follow Scotland’s steps and have a negotiated referendum. Now it seems it could be the other way around. Maybe Scotland will have to follow Catalonia’s steps and do something unilateral.
—I think ultimately, political leaders want to show they act responsibly. However, it is the British state that is not acting responsibly. If we focus too much on our politicians, then neither country will ever have independence. If the movement focuses on the people and the power they have, then yes, you will have independence. There is not a single country in the world that has ever won independence because a handful of politicians sat around a table and talked. They are afraid of the people on the streets. Of the strikes, of the revolutions: that people take control of ports, of their workplaces, of their industries and say, we will no longer work for you. We will march in the streets. That’s what scares them. And if we can, if Scotland manages to regain this state of mind (it won’t be easy, it will be hard), but by galvanizing this state of mind, then independence will be closer. When? I don’t know. If I had a crystal ball, I’d have another job.

—Would you like to add anything?
—Probably, I would tell those who organize the Diada that they have to rethink their strategy and control the agenda. They have to control the movement. And politicians should dance to their rhythm, not the other way around. It seems to me that in recent years, the movement has danced to the tune of politicians. And the politicians haven’t done it. Some of them have made mistakes. Some others, not. But the point is that it is the people who have to decide the future. And if you don’t want to be in the same place in three, four, five generations, and take a hundred years to ask the same thing, then let’s go back to the movement and seize opportunities. They want to bring Clara Ponsatí back to court on April 24. What will the movement do? She is one of us. Let’s not look if she is in this party or that one. No, she is independent. She has to be defended. If we don’t defend ourselves, then they will come looking for us. That’s how I see it.


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