During the general strike on 14th November 2012 in Barcelona, Ester Quintana was returning home from a protest when a rubber bullet, shoot by the mossos (Catalan police) impacted in her face. As a consequence, she lost her left eye. On April 11th 2016, nearly four years later, the trial of Ester Quintana began. Two mossos have been accused of the shooting. The Generalitat (the Catalan Government) and the Mossos D’Escuadra deny the use of rubber bullets during the protest. Ester Quintana wants justice and to end with this period of her life.
Asier Arrate Iruskieta
How have the last four years been?
They have been four very difficult years. There have been physical and psychological consequences. I have post-traumatic stress and I still have to go to a psychologist. I have been diagnosed with a full, permanent disability and this means that I can no longer work in my previous job, I was the manager of a cafe. On the other hand, there is also all the work of talking to politicians, speaking in parliament, organizing demonstrations and get the case through the courts. Although, I believe the latter isn’t rewarded.
You have become the image of a struggle
I don’t know why, but I think many factors have been involved. Being a woman is one of them. I also think that many people have empathized with me because I am an ordinary person who does not belong to any movement or political party. They think that what happened to me could have happened to them. Also, the videos and the photo campaigns with the patch on my eye were little things that brought the case into the light.
Has it been hard having to listen different versions of the case from the institutions, denying once and again that no rubber bullets were fired?
I felt powerless when I heard them saying that everything was a lie. I asked them many times to sit down and talk so I could show them all the material I have that proves the police shot rubber bullets. But, they still decided to defend their version. During the past four years, public institutions have given around seven different versions of the story. All of them deny what really happened. There has been three Conseillers (Minister of Internal Affairs in the Catalan Government). Only the last one, Jordi Jane, has contacted me to try to fix the issue in the best way possible. At least, I have felt that he has the intention to fix the situation… or silence it. They have recognized that I was hurt within a context of a police action, but they don’t blame themselves for it. In order to prove it, we need to go to trial.
How can you explain that the public institutions haven’t give you any kind of support?
It is clear to me that they are trying to hide cases of political violence. The doctors in the hospital, for instance, were quite reluctant to write in the report that that the wound was caused by a rubber bullet. The Ministry of Interior of the Catalan Government and the mossos still deny what happened. They support each other. I understand companionship, but not the fact that they are trying to hide something that it is wrong.
In the past years, there have been several people injured by rubber bullets. How is it possible that this has not been officially acknowledged by public institutions?
Because that would mean setting up a precedent, having to compensate victims and try the policeman involved. My case is the first one that will have a trial, despite the fact that twelve people have lost an eye due to rubber bullets in Catalonia. Something is not working. We don’t know in which tiers of government the problem is, but it’s there.
Institutions are trying to protect this kind of police action. Why?
I think public institutions have tried to criminalize protests. The gag law is the latest example of this. Their aim is to repress people so they don’t protest and everything is calm and quiet. Governments continue doing the same because no one is protesting, and protest is the only way we can express our opinion.
Do you think that The Gag Law limits the chances to shed light on cases like yours?
It makes it more difficult. All the videos that people recorded and uploaded to the internet that have been used as evidence in my case wouldn’t have existed otherwise, because in those videos there are policemen.f their integrity is compromised the material cannot be published.
The Government has compensated you with 260.000 euros and they have acknowledged that you were injured during a police action. The trial starts on April 11th. What are your goals for the trail?
I want justice. As my lawyer says, we don’t know the outcome of the trial. But, we believe that, regardless of the outcome, bringing the case to court is already a victory because previous victims of rubber bullets never got to this stage.
How are you expecting to cope with the trial?
I am very nervous. But the work we had to do is already done. We have been very thorough in the process of the case. All the work we had to do to reach this this stage has been difficult, but I just want it to be over. Whatever happens, I want the trial to begin and be over. I want to face the trial. Once the sentence gets issued we will be able to see how the justice system really is. If there is an acquittal, there is nothing else I can do. That will mean that the system doesn’t work. I want the trial to be an ending point of this period of my life. After that, I will be able to decide if this an ending or if there should be follow-up. It will depend a lot on the outcome. Anyhow, I am already happy with our work and the social justice we have accomplished. Now people know what happened to me, and they know that it was the police.
Other victims of rubber bullets have struggled to bring those responsible for their injuries to justice, specially senior officials. Did you have the same problem?
I don’t know what happened in other cases, but we wanted to summon all the political and police establishment. From the conseiller Felip Puig to the mosso that shot the rubber bullet. Our aim was to know at which level of command the use of rubber bullets was allowed. The thing is, in the preliminary investigation for the trial the judge saw the list and told us that, above a certain level of responsibility, no one will go to the trial. Despite this, I think the pre-trial judge has done a very good work and given a very thorough hearing. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the the Mossos have nothing. They presented almost no evidence, and the little evidence they did show was bad. All the evidence they have finally submitted was because the judge obliged them to, they didn’t do it voluntarily.
The Catalonian police have changed the rubber bullets for other “less lethal” ammunition.
The fact is that they have only banned rubber balls, but in exchange they deploy water cannons, ultrasound guns, foam munitions, tasers… they have the means. If there haven’t been any more altercations or injuries it’s because there are express orders to remain calm. My case has deeply damaged the police and the Generalitat. They need to review and improve all police protocols and train the agents. There is a huge lack of it and I think there are many Mossos D’Escuadra who are unfit for the profession. But the methods must change too. If those above think that violence is the only answer, then there is no point in having trained police. It will end up being a militarized and hierarchical body, if those above decide to act in a certain way. Why is it necessary to break up a peaceful demonstration with violence? On November 14th, the police were waiting for the riots to start. The method is to repress people to send them home and then use that action to criminalize the protest. People’s life is more valuable than anything material. I am not in favor of burning containers, but that doesn’t mean that the police have to shoot to stop these acts. Why do they shoot people when their life is not at risk? In my case, when it happened, I had my back to them. If I don’t turn like I did, I could be dead instead of just losing an eye.
After what happened, how did people react? Have they stopped going to protests?
People have stopped me in the street to tell me they were at that demonstration, that they have experienced similar situations and that now they are scared of going to protests. Not only that, parents are advising their children not to go to protest because of what happened to me. There are other that no longer go on their own or that leave the protest before is over. That’s what they have achieved with their repression. It’s exactly what they wanted.
Since the beginning, you knew you will never stop going protesting
I will not stop protesting because it’s my way of expressing my opinion publicly and I think it is my right. In the demonstrations I have been since the incident, there has not been any trouble, but the police presence has been very big. They intimidate me. I get insecure. And I don’t want to think like that of all the police.
Have you raise awareness about this topic amongst individuals and other victim associations thanks to your case?
There were many people who didn’t know about this issue with the police and rubber bullets. Many don’t know that people have been injured in other contexts, like sporting events. People have got together and showed a lot of support. The solidarity we have felt has been incredible and thanks to the social, political and media pressure we have manage to ban rubber bullets.