Friday, September 20, 2013

Driver who insisted on speaking Catalan at routine stop, sentenced to jail

Originally published in VilaWeb on Sept 19, 2013

Carles Mateu Blay was acquitted in January of disobeying the authorities, but the prosecutor appealed and now the Audiència (Court) has overturned the ruling • He was detained for three hours at a routine roadside stop in Almassora for insisting on speaking in Catalan

Carles Mateu Blay, a driver from Almenara who was detained and humiliated during more than three hours in a routine roadside stop by the Spanish Civil Guard for insisting on speaking to the agents in Catalan, has been sentenced to six months in prison for disobeying authorities and has had his driver's license revoked for one year and one day. Mateu had originally won the case, and was acquitted of all charges, but the prosecutor appealed the sentence and now the Provincial Audiència overturned the ruling and accepted the request of the prosecutor. On the other hand, the suit that Mateu presented against the civil guard office for false testimony was shelved, and therefore, the agents who detained him will not be brought to trial. "It's surreal; I went from being the victim to being the delinquent," Mateu explained to VilaWeb, clearly perplexed.

According to Mateu's defense, the ruling from the Audiència changed the judicial criteria and considered that the "linguistic conflict" between Mateu and the police offers, who forced him to speak Spanish during the detention, was part of Mateu's strategy to drag out the time before he would have to take a alcohol detection test, therefore becoming a more serious crime of disobedience to an authority, punishable with a prison sentence. The alcohol breath test, for that matter, was administered, and came back negative.

This judicial interpretation of the facts, that Mateu considers simply incredible, contrasts with the first judge's ruling, in which the testimony of one of the civil guard agents was taken into account, who denied and dismantled the accusations and citations of his fellow officers. In addition, during the trial, one of the agents openly recognized to the judge that indeed they had demanded that Mateu speak in Spanish.

Mateu's defense considers this sentence difficult to appeal right now, but Mateu has not ruled out bringing the case to a higher court and told VilaWeb that he was studying such an option, since he considers the matter to be a grave case of aggression and linguistic discrimination.

The facts

Everything happened on December 21 of last year in a routine stop at the Almassora exit, a little after 5pm. A civil guard patrol stopped Carles Mateu in the CV-18 roundabout, and asked him to take a blood alcohol test. He was on his way to pick up his daughter at school. The fact that the car he was driving belonged to his sister-in-law and wasn't his own aroused the suspicion of the agents about the documentation. It was then that he got the feeling that something was up, but Carles couldn't foresee what was going to happen. "I saw right away that it bothered them that I was speaking in Valencian [Catalan] and that I wasn't changing languages. But I never imagined it could end up like this. Indeed, I can say that they took my drivers license away for speaking in Valencian. It's scandalous and intolerable."

From that moment on, the conversation turned into an attack and a humiliation for Carles, who wasn't able to get home until more than three hours later, "with three false citations that added up to 1000 euros in fines and curiously enough, 12 points on my drivers license." While he was detained, Carles had to bear insults of all kinds, and even a shove or two. They made him wait in his car until another agent arrived who was in charge of witnesses. This third agent dismantled the accusations of his fellow officers a few days later in front of the judge.

What surprised everyone, "including the witness agent, who was much more willing to talk things out than the others," was that Carles Mateu was cited for not wearing a seat belt, for not using a reflective vest, and for refusing a blood alcohol test. Mateu stated from the very first moment that they were groundless, false citations. "My whole world fell apart around me! It was all false! I explained everything to the [third] agent but he told me that it wasn't up to him and that he couldn't do anything about it, but he saw that I was wearing the vest and logically, he could see the results of the tests as well."

You can find a full history of the events here, in Catalan.

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