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We demand immediate measures from the Spanish government delegate to stop language discrimination by the police

The Catalan NGO considers this extremely urgent after the case at El Prat Airport of a Flemish citizen recently operated on for colon cancer who was forced to show the content of the stoma bag he has worn since the operation and harassed by the Civil Guard for speaking Catalan

Plataforma per la Llengua appeared this Tuesday at the Spanish Government office in Catalonia to accompany Kris C. in denouncing the harassment he received from the Civil Guard at El Prat Airport.

The events took place on Monday 9 December when the victim, a Flemish citizen from Flanders living in Catalonia, went to go through the security checks at El Prat Airport. The security guard noticed that K.C. was wearing something under his clothes and asked him to show it to him. The victim explained, in Catalan, that it was a stoma bag fitted after a colon cancer operation and that he did not even show it to his family because it was unpleasant to see. The response was sarcastic and the guard joked about his excrement bag: "Stoma? Stoma? What's a stoma?" The worker also demanded that he speak to him in Spanish. K.C. explained that he was born in Belgium and that he could speak Dutch, English, French and German as well as Catalan, but he couldn't speak Spanish and had some difficulty understanding it.

At that point, the guard called two Civil Guard officers who were near the check point. The officers told K.C. unkindly that they did not understand Catalan either and demanded that he switch language. When K.C. explained that he lived in Bigues i Riells and that the people in the village spoke Catalan, which was why he did not speak Spanish well, the officers asked where the village was. When they were told it was in Catalonia, they became indignant and snapped that "This is Spain and we speak Spanish here." So, in clear breach of the law, the officers did not ever offer K.C. the chance to be attended in Catalan or by someone with a good knowledge of the language. It must be remembered that article 54.11 of Royal Legislative Decree 5/2015, concerning the amended text of the Basic Statute of Public Employees Act, obliges civil servants to ensure that "citizens are dealt with in the language they request provided it is official in the territory where they are".

Although the victim repeated to the police officers that he preferred not to show the stoma bag because it was something private and unpleasant, considering the distress generated by the situation, made worse by his limited ability to understand Spanish, he eventually gave in when the officers insisted. Under pressure from them, K.C. lowered his trousers, the only way of showing the stoma bag. At this point, the two officers took hold of K.C. and took him to a small room, where, in the presence of four more officers, they drew up an first report against him for an offence of "disturbing public order" even though he had simply obeyed the orders they had given him and could only vaguely understand them because of his poor knowledge of Spanish.

The officers also ordered the victim to remove his clothes to show the excrement bag even though, at the same time, they ordered him not to lower his trousers. However, this was the only way they could inspect the bag, which was the reason they had given for taking him to the room. In the end, the man ended up taking off his t-shirt in an absurd situation. After this, the officers began searching his luggage and once again asked where he lived. He answered that he lived in Bigues i Riells and, as they wrote "Riels del Fai" (sic), a village within the municipality of Bigues i Riells, he alerted them to the error. The officers did not like being corrected, however, and they reported the man for another offence, this time "refusing to cooperate with the police". While he was in the room, the Civil Guard officers never informed K.C. of his basic rights or of the possibility of having a lawyer, nor did they bring in any officer who could communicate with him in a language he could understand properly.

Later, when the victim was sitting in the plane, a security officer entered and announced that the police had banned him from flying and he had to leave the aircraft, so he was immediately thrown off. Nor could he get another ticket because the airline, Ryanair, told him that the subsequent flights were full. However, K.C. was able to check for himself on the internet that this was not true. Finally, the victim was not able to fly and he returned home having been reported for two offences by the Spanish police.

Five requests to the Spanish government delegate

The director of Plataforma per la Llengua, Neus Mestres, made five requests to the Spanish government delegate to ensure respect for the language rights of Catalan-speakers. The requests to Teresa Cunillera are:

  • That she should formally propose that the Spanish government begin procedures to amend the Constitution and make Catalan an official State language.
  • That she should agree with the ministries that all recruitment procedures for State civil service jobs in Catalonia should require equal language skills in Catalan and Spanish, as stipulated in the Catalan Statute of Autonomy.
  • That she should make a public commitment to end the impunity of the security forces. That they should be obliged to comply with the protocols and that workers who did not should be punished.
  • That posters should be designed giving information about language rights and placed in visible places at the State authorities' public facilities in Catalonia, especially police stations.
  • That she should request a meeting with the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, the ultimate head of all the Spanish police forces, to deal with these cases of language discrimination.

The Catalan NGO trusts it will be able to meet the Spanish government delegate as soon as possible.

Third incident of language discrimination in which the "Gagging Act" is applied

Plataforma per la Llengua's legal services are now working with the victim to give him legal advice to uphold his language rights. The organisation's director, Neus Mestres, asked "that the police forces should be compelled to comply with the protocols and that workers who do not comply should be punished". She added that "all recruitment procedures for State civil servants in Catalonia should demand equal language skills in Catalan and Spanish".

There has been no response to the request to speak to the Spanish government delegate in Catalonia, Teresa Cunillera. Plataforma per la Llengua reminds those involved that this is not the first time officers of the State security forces have taken advantage of the provisions of the controversial "Gagging Act" to repress citizens who speak to them in Catalan. In fact, the Catalan NGO has already given advice for the same reason to the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya lecturer Xavier Casanovas and the delivery rider from Elx, Jafet Pinedo, a case which ended with an apology and an admission of the facts by the officers.

Around 70 cases in 12 years

Over the last few years, Plataforma per la Llengua has collected numerous cases of language discrimination against Catalan-speaking citizens caused by the Civil Guard and the Spanish National Police Force. In the Study of Linguistic Behaviour before the Spanish Police Forces, the organisation has collected details of the 68 cases detected since 2007.

The NGO has shown that all the incidents of discrimination involved harassment and that in 15% of them there was physical aggression towards the citizens involved. Most of the discrimination incidents did not result in legal or judicial consequences and the police officers were convicted of an offence in only 3% of the cases.

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