Xavier Casanovas, a teacher at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, has been fined 601 euros for speaking in Catalan with the Spanish police at passport control at Barcelona’s El Prat airport. The policemen justify the sanction saying that Casanovas hindered their work by talking to them in Catalan on the past 4 September.
In declarations to VilaWeb, the teacher explained that he greeted the policeman when he gave him his passport, but he did so in Catalan and this was the trigger. The policeman ordered him to speak in Spanish. ‘I have never had any problem with speaking in Spanish, I am someone who answers in Spanish when spoken to in Spanish’, said Casanovas. He added: ‘He got on his high horses so I continued speaking in Catalan’.
The policeman warned him that if he did not speak in Spanish, he might miss his flight. He told him that addressing him in Catalan was a ‘lack of respect’ and a sign of ‘little love for the country’. Casanovas passed the control and thought that it was all over, but it wasn’t. The policeman went after him with another agent at the queue for boarding. He says that they took him off to an information point and asked for his passport again to note the personal details. The policeman told him he had the obligation to speak to them in Spanish and warned him that if he continued to use Catalan they would have to call a translator and might miss his flight. When Casanovas asked the police to identify themselves, one was not wearing his number because ‘it did not fit on his shirt’. According to the victim, they said goodbye aggressively and said to him ‘I know where you live’.
When he returned from his trip, he decided to make a complaint to the Mossos d’Esquadra Catalan police for the treatment he had received, but the investigating judge filed the case because he said he could not identify the policemen in question. Six months after the events, on 13 March he received a notification of the initiation of legal proceedings ‘in relation to the regulations on the protection of citizens safety’ – the so-called ‘Gag Rule’. According to the text, he committed a serious breach because he ‘ignored the orders given by the acting agents and therefore hindered their police work and delayed the normal flow of passengers’.
Casanovas is receiving legal advice from the Plataforma per la Llengua and the Fundació Catalunya in order to make allegations. They consider it ‘serious linguistic discrimination on the part of the Spanish authorities’. The victim will also ask the court that investigated the complaint to reopen the case now that, thanks to the police report, it is possible to know the identity of the two policemen.