Spain: 59 held after demonstration against detention centres (1)

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On Saturday 24 June 2006, over fifty activists from different European countries involved in a protest in the Zona Franca in Barcelona, the Second Caravan for Freedom of Movement, were arrested as they occupied the site of a future detention centre for foreigners to criticise the use of these facilities.

The planned detention centre, which will replace the one in La Verneda, will be the largest of its kind in Spain. The national police intervened during the action and, after negotiating the exit of the demonstrators, they acted aggressively towards journalists (breaking a camera) and activists, threatening them with dogs, according to a statement from the Caravan. Officers from the Mossos d'Esquadra, the Catalan police force, also appeared on the scene, but did not carry out any arrests. The police allegedly treated the demonstrators violently (four Italians who were detained wrote of "kicks and shoves") and held them for questioning in La Verneda police station for around 48 hours, until their release on the following Monday.

The people who were detained included journalists who were covering the event, one from Europa Press and another from TVE, the Spanish public broadcasting company, who were released on the Saturday, and two lawyers were also arrested. The Caravan also included a demonstration involving migrants and migrant support groups, calling for the unconditional regularisation of migrants in the EU, the closing of detention centres, putting a stop to the externalising of European immigration policy and opposing current policies of strictly linking residence permits to employment contracts.

Lawyers representing some of the detainees filed habeas corpus claims, deeming that the arrests were illegal, and the Caravan criticised the police repression of a peaceful and legal initiative to defend the rights of migrants and oppose detention centres. Police sources reported that the protestors cut the cables of the CCTV circuit in the detention centre and, with a view to criminalising them, described them as collectively having "a similar 'squatters' attire of an anarchist and radical cut", and as "possibly belonging to anti-establishment groups, which have supported some persons detained in previous police operations for placing explosive devices in Barcelona".

The Coordinadora para la Prevención de la Tortura, a coalition of civil society groups working for the prevention of torture, issued a statement highlighting:

1) the legitimacy of the protest;

2) the illegality of the detentions (as the detainees had already been identified by the police);

3) the treatment that they experienced, including insults, blows, deprivation of food and water in spite of the high temperature;

4) the unnecessary extension of the time during which they were held until Monday, when they had finished giving their statements on Sunday;

5) the attempt by the police to criminalise the detainees by describing them collectively as supporting terrorists, a notion that was backed by the mayor of Barcelona and other public officials, rather than focussing on complaints about the police intervention.

Sources: Statement by the press section of the Second Caravan for Freedom of Movement, 26.6.2006; Europa Press 24-26.6.2006; 'Ninguna persona es ilegal!', letter by four activists from Venice who were arrested, 30.6.2006; Statement by the Coordinadora para la Prevención de la Tortura, 28.6.2006.

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