Supreme Court releases six Catalan leaders, holds four

Judge frees six ex-ministers on bail, Junqueras, Forn and two 'Jordis' to remain in jail. Photos: La Vanguardia
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• Judge frees six ex-ministers on bail; Junqueras, Forn, two ‘Jordis’ still held

A Spanish Supreme Court judge on Monday ordered the release on bail of six former Catalan regional government ministers detained since last month on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, but ordered continued jail for two other former Catalan ministers, including ex-Vice president Oriol Junqueras, along with two leaders of the pro-independence Omnium Cultural and Asociacion Nacional Catalana (ANC).

Judge Pablo Llarena ordered the six ex-ministers be released on 100,000 euros bail each and required them to turn over their passports,  prohibiting them from leaving Spanish territory while awaiting trial. Llarena also ordered that Junqueras, along with ex-Catalan Interior Minister Joaquim Forn, Ominium leader Jordi Cuixart and ANC leader Jordi Sànchez remain in jail pending trial, saying that while the possibility they would flee the country if released had diminished there was still a clear risk of re-occurrence of the alleged crimes. Four other ex-leaders of Catalonia’s government, including former regional President Carles Puigdemont, have fled to Brussels to avoid Spanish justice and are currently awaiting a Belgian court decision on their extradition to Spain to stand trial.

The charges filed by Spanish public prosecutors are related to events before, during and after the illegal independence referendum held on 1st October in Catalonia. They include obstruction of justice and incitement to violence during a 20th September protest in Barcelona led by Cuixart and Sànchez in response to court-ordered, search-and-seizure operations by the Guardia Civil, as well as a unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan Parlament in late-October.

In a 25-page ruling, Llarena cited specific documents obtained by the Guardia Civil on  20th September demonstrating that Junqueras, Cuixart and Sànchez were integral members of a “strategic committee” intent upon violating Spanish law and mobilizing pro-independence protests to achieve Catalan independence and form a republic.

The three leaders, the judge said, had played roles “directly linked to a violent explosion” of protest against judicial and police authorities. Forn, he said, as Interior Minister was in a position to direct Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra regional police to stop the protest but had chosen to take no action. The detainees’ testimony before the court, Llarena said, did not sufficiently demonstrate an unwillingness to  commit the same or similar actions again, which Llarena said could result in “grave, immediate and irreparable damage to the community.”

He added that the fact that the four detainees are standing as candidates in Catalonia’s 21st December parliamentary elections was  insufficient reason to grant their release and actually reinforced the argument for keeping them in prison as a cautionary measure, because “the risk of criminal re-occurrence is expressly linked to the public offices to which they are aspiring.” With respect to the upcoming elections, Llarena noted that while the right to participate in free and democratic elections form an important part of fundamental liberties and rights enshrined in the EU’s human rights convention, the European Court of Human Rights nevertheless has itself ruled that this right is by no means absolute and can be modified by the courts of EU member states.

Following the Spanish government’s dissolution of the Catalan Parlament and convening of regional elections for 21st December, Catalonia’s pro-independence parties included Puigdemont, Junqueras, Sànchez and all but one of the former regional ministers to their lists of candidates in the upcoming elections. With Junqueras, Forn and Sànchez remaining in jail and a Belgian judge unlikely to rule before 21st December on Spain’s requests for the extradition of Puigdemont along with the other ex-ministers in Brussels, all signs point to the inability of several high-profile candidates to take a personal part in campaigning becoming a controversial issue and part of the pro-independence parties’ electioneering strategy.

► Read More in Spanish at La Vanguardia, El Periódico and El País …

► Read Full Supreme Court Ruling in Spanish here …

► Read More in English at the BBC, The Independent and TheLocal.es …

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