NO to the trial of 25 students, 1 technicien and 1 professor from the UAB
Decades ago we realized that universities are a place where freedom, critical and reflective thinking, and theoretical innovation should rule. Likewise, we think that it is necessary to have in the academic scenario a continual exercise of questioning political or scientific paradigms as well as the construction of models to transform in various positive ways the lives of women and men. For that reason our society moves to the academic arena the production of new knowledge and the transmission to the rest of society the scientific progress and criticism of dogmas and practices. However, the reality of the everyday life of most universities indicates that this is not always the case. But the recognition that universities are places where freedom should prevail is taken for granted, and academic freedom is one of the principles that give meaning to the university scenario, in accordance with the Recommendations of UNESCO's General Conference in 1997, and ratified by all Member States of this organism .
As a result of this, the attacks to academic freedom of the faculty and students are considered a sign that a state does not meet the minimum requirements to be considered "democratic." Criminal proceedings against university staff due to the adoption of dissenting positions against the status quo, and the expression of opinions and political positions or actions, have always been associated with actions of authoritarian character, when not directly considered anti-democratic or fascist.
In the Spanish State, one of the actions of the dictatorship of General Franco that had great international impact due to the attacks to Academic Freedom and to any guiding principle of the university was the dismissal of three professors, in a process that was developed during the student mobilization of 1965. At that time, the Franco government, through its council of ministers, expelled University professors José Luis López-Aranguren Jimenez, Agustin Garcia Calvo and Enrique Tierno Galvan, and sanctioned two other professors for two years . The allegations that prompted such action referred to the induction of subversive activities of a number of university students in the context of student mobilizations and occupation of powers ("adherence to insubordination", "incitement and encouragement of collective manifestations," "attendance to student reunions...”) in accordance with a 1967 resolution from the Supreme Court that ratified the decision . The Amnesty Law of 1977 (Law 46/1977 of October 15) would repeal these governmental and judicial decisions, due to the obvious anti-democratic nature of such punitive action.
Over the next 50 years similar situations of repressive action against dissent in university policy did not occur. Until now, that we have seen how the government, through the prosecution, is acting against university staff and students with arguments comparable to those put forward by the Francoist authorities.
Social mobilization against the policies of recent governments of the Spanish state by the European Union and state and regional governments increased significantly, especially since 2010, coinciding with the so-called "crisis" associated with the collapse in 2008 of financial capitalism, combined with the momentum of a neoliberal program.
In that context, the student mobilizations started to question the orientation of public universities towards similar operations adopted by private universities. And, among other things, they started to oppose the rise in tuition fees, which followed a growth rate that has been hindering access or permanence to wide groups of students at the university. The university system in Spain has ranked among the most expensive in Europe. This phenomenon is particularly marked in Catalunya, where tuition fees have risen above those of other state universities and public investment in higher education is one of the lowest .
The protest against the price of college tuition, along with the claim that the layoffs resulting from cuts in university funding had to stop, the necessity of the application of the resolutions adopted by the faculty, as well as some organizational aspects that needed attention, boosted various student groups at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) in April of 2013 to move the mobilization to the building of the university chancellor. The building was occupied by the students, as had happened in the aforementioned protests during the Franco government, as it happened in other countries ("May 68") or during the struggles of the No Tenured Professors (Profesorado No Numerario- PNN) during the "Spanish Transition" in the 1970s. Different forms of protest have also continued on multiple occasions in recent years.
The student mobilization at the UAB quickly received support from various unions of workers from the University and, at the individual level, from professors who taught classes in the spaces occupied by students for several weeks.
The response of the academic authorities was immobilism. Deaf ear to dialogue requests. No concession to what ultimately were the resolutions of the most plural body of the university: the faculty. Finally, after a month, the occupation of the chancellor’s building was abandoned.
Meanwhile, the rector of the UAB and several members of his government team reported to the police and the prosecution a number of members of the university who were known for their participation in mobilizations on campus and for their critical opinions. Among those reported to the authorities, there are 25 students, besides a professor (Teaching and Research Staff- PDI) and a worker from PAS (Administrative and Services Personnel). The professor and the worker, besides being union representatives, had an important role in the candidacy campaign for the chancellor position, as well as in various mobilizations in defense of the public character of the university. The accused professor, Ermengol Gassiot, besides being the instructor of prehistoric archeology, is currently the general secretary of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union in Catalunya.
Earlier this past July we learned that the prosecution has formally requested sentences between 11 years and five months and 14 years in prison for 27 people, plus a ban on showing up at the UAB facilities for 5 years. We find that the Spanish institutions are once again acting against dissent, as in times of the Franco government, and seeking an exorbitant punishment, which even surpasses the actions imposed by the 1965 dictatorship. We also realize that the present arguments from such institutions do not differ significantly from those adopted during the years of the dictatorship.
In his indictment, the prosecutor uses the social, political and trade union militancy of the accused to argue that they were following a "criminal plan" which encouraged and drove the student mobilization in a conspiratorial way.
The prosecutor's indictment ensures that all defendants will be judged and, because of high demands, they will face the real risk of being convicted. This would be the first time in more than 40 years that college students and staff go to jail for expressing their political position inside the university, for speaking out against what they consider unfair, and for being dissidents.
Due to the aforementioned, the signers of this manifesto, workers, and members of various universities in Catalunya, as well as members from the rest of the Spanish state and the world, we want to make a wake-up call. We are deeply concerned about a situation that may be indicative of the loss of pluralism and freedom at the universities. We believe that critical thinking and open and vibrant public debate are essential assets of academia. We also believe that this criminal prosecution reopens a terrifying path that if we do not react firmly, will lead to the progressive exclusion of freedom of thought at the university.
For these reasons, we request the following:
1) That the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and its new team of government withdraw the civil suit that it still maintains against the accused. We especially request that they publicly disagree with the prosecution of members of the university community: students, (former) students and workers, and both teachers and administrative and services staff.
2) That the judicial authorities undertake the necessary actions to file the court case without any action against the indicted persons.
3) That the competent institutions in university, scientific and judicial policy carry out the appropriate measures to close this process, both on its criminal and civil terms.
4) That all political parties, trade unions and other social organizations maintain an unequivocal commitment to ensure freedom of expression, political freedom and academic freedom at universities in Catalunya and in the rest of the Spanish State.
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(7) Baquero, C. S. (2016, juliol 7). El fiscal pide 11 años de cárcel para el líder de CGT por la ocupación de la UAB en 2013. El País. Retrieved from http://ccaa.elpais.com/ccaa/2016/07/07/catalunya/1467907839_360652.html
(8) Piden entre 11 y 13 años de cárcel por ocupar el rectorado de la UAB en 2013. (2016, juliol 7). ABC. Retrieved from http://www.abc.es/sociedad/abci-piden-entre-11-y-13-anos-carcel-ocupar-r...
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