Statewatch article: RefNo# 6761
Legal action against policing of demonstrations
Statewatch News Online, May 2003
In an evaluation report of legal actions against police misconduct in Barcelona, presented by
Jaume Asens of the Commissió de defensa del drets de la persona del Collegi
d´Advocats de Barcelona (Barcelona Lawyer´s Association Commission for the Defence
of Human Rights) at a meeting of the Commission for the Defence of Human Rights in
Globalisation held in the Catalan city on 25-26 April 2003, a number of issues arising from
demonstrations held on 24 June 2001 and 15 March 2002 were examined.

The first demonstration saw over 60 persons injured as a result of riot police charges against
the main demonstration. This had been largely peaceful, though some violence had occurred
in the form of vandalism. Asens asked why the police intervened only after the vandalism
had occurred, without taking any action to prevent it; why several journalists were assaulted
(with a journalist and cameraman detained); and why several witness accounts (including by
MPs) agreed in suggesting that policemen armed with bars had acted as "agents

A case was brought against Julia García Valdecasas, the Delegada del gobierno
(government representative), and several high-level police officials using the acción popular
process, whereby members of the public can exercise a role as prosecutors, with the
participation of over 60 organisations. The charges were shelved due to the "failure to
identify the disguised police officers", in spite of over 100 testimonies, 13 hours of video
recordings and photographic material documenting the excesses of police action, and an
appeal against the closing of the case has now been filed. Nonetheless, Asens feels that the
case helped to provoke a debate around the "limits of police action" and the "wide margins
of discretion or impunity" that it enjoys. For example, as there is no way of identifying riot
police officers, it is impossible to attribute offences to anyone, even if their occurrence has
been proven.

The demonstration attended by 500,000 persons in Barcelona on 15 March 2002 saw 52
persons injured and 112 arrested (some of whom alleged ill-treatment while held in Verneda
police station). In this instance, activity by lawyers included the setting up of legal teams, and
the provision of legal defence at borders, as a response to the ever-increasing practice by
EU states of closing borders when they stage events that may be the focus for protests. The
refusal by Spanish border guards to allow 750 Portuguese demonstrators (including MPs,
one of whom was ill-treated as he tried to intervene on behalf of demonstrators) to cross the
Spanish-Portuguese border in Rosal de la Frontera caused a diplomatic row. The
Commissió de defensa del drets de la persona del Collegi d´Advocats de Barcelona filed a
lawsuit, again through the acción popular process, against the contravention of the exercise
of the right to free movement, which does not allow a collective refusal of entry. Suits have
also been presented against the refusal to allow a Belgian and a Spanish lawyer into Spain.

"Fabrication" of offences against demonstrators

With regards to the defence of persons detained on the demonstration, Asens notes that it
had positive results, with many having the charges against them dismissed, or being found
not guilty in court. Irregularities, malpractice and false statements by police officers have
also been alleged by judges. In one instance, where a demonstrator was arrested after
seeking shelter from clashes in an ATM machine outlet, the accused was found not guilty
and police officers were accused of fabricating an offence. In fact, after being arrested for
participating in disturbances, an additional charge of "possession of explosives", in the for

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