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Catalan parliament speaker freed from jail after posting €150,000 bail

Judge releases Carme Forcadell from pre-trial custody after defense posts bond, and on condition of weekly appearance in court

forcadell
Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell (c) is driven away from the Alcalá Meco prison in Madrid on Friday. EFE

The speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, was released today from prison after her defense posted the €150,000 bail set on Thursday by the Supreme Court. Forcadell spent the night in the Alcalá-Meco jail in Madrid before being freed around midday on Friday.

Forcadell testified in the Supreme Court on Thursday to answer charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds in connection with the independence drive in the northeastern Spanish region.

The measures are considerably less harsh than what prosecutors were seeking

In a decision made late Thursday night, Judge Pablo Llarena said that Forcadell, who was transferred to Alcala Meco penitentiary in Madrid, could walk free if she posted the €150,000 bond. Four other members of the Catalan parliament speakers’ committee who faced similar charges were released and told to pay a €25,000 bond within a week, while a fifth was released without bail.

Forcadell’s lawyer, Andreu Van Der Eynde, arrived at the prison at 11.30am after having spent several hours at the Supreme Court. The parliament speaker left the jail in a gray Audi and made no statement to reporters. Her passport has been handed over to the courts, and she will now have to appear at the Supreme Court whenever summoned. If she fails to do so, she will be placed back in custody.

ANC, one of two civil society groups that have actively supported secession, had stated that it would put up the bail money for Forcadell and the four other accused. “You are not alone,” said the ANC in a social media post. Forcadell was head of the ANC herself between 2012 and 2015, before joining politics and becoming the regional parliament speaker.

Sympathizers waiting outside the Supreme Court for Carme Forcadell to walk out.
Sympathizers waiting outside the Supreme Court for Carme Forcadell to walk out. EFE

The measures are considerably less harsh than those prosecutors were seeking, and take into account the fact that all six were cooperative and answered prosecutors’ questions as well as their own lawyers’. The judge also noted that Forcadell and her colleagues “will in future renounce any actions outside the constitutional framework.”

At the hearing, Forcadell said the declaration of independence passed by the regional parliament on October 27 was of a symbolic nature only, according to court sources. She also pledged to comply fully with the emergency powers imposed in the region by Madrid under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution in response to the unconstitutional declaration.

It had been widely expected that the Supreme Court would impose milder measures than those faced by former Catalan government members who appeared before a judge at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s High Court. These individuals, who include former deputy premier Oriol Junqueras, are being held in pre-trial custody with no option of bail.

Forcadell, Lluís Maria Corominas, Anna Simó, Lluis Guinó, Ramona Barrufet and Joan Josep Nuet i Pujals are being investigated by the Supreme Court rather than the High Court because they have the status ofaforamiento,” or partial immunity before the country’s lower tribunals.

Forcadell told the judge that the independence declaration was merely symbolic

Responding to questions from prosecutors and from her lawyer, Forcadell argued she had always allowed parliamentary debate to go ahead without prejudicing results or controlling content. She told the judge that avoiding such parliamentary debate would have seen her breaking laws applying to the speaker’s committee and violating the principles of a democratic state.

The speaker also rejected the idea that the Catalan independence push had included violence and said she had always maintained that all protests should be peaceful.

Judge Llarena began questioning officials from the speakers committee of the Catalan parliament at 9.30am on Thursday morning, a week later than initially planned after lawyers for the defense called for proceedings to be delayed so they could work on strategy.

Forcadell was the first to appear, with her testimony lasting just over two hours. Her lawyer provided a large amount of paperwork designed to show she had not broken the law. This included documents related to the budget and spending of the Catalan parliament, court sources said.

Meanwhile, eight former members of the Catalan government have now spent a week in pre-trial custody in the Madrid region after appearing in the Spanish High Court, and a judge in Belgium has provisionally released former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont and four ex-ministers of his government who are also currently in that country. However, they are set to appear before a Belgian judge on November 17, at a hearing to decide on their arrest and possible extradition to Spain.

In related news, Spain’s High Court has ruled against releasing Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of National Catalan Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium, the main civic groups behind Catalonia’s pro-independence street mobilizations. The two men are accused of directing and spurring on crowds to stage street protests on September 20 and 21 in a bid – that ultimately failed – to stop Operation Anubis, a raid against the organizers of the illegal independence referendum of October 1.

English version by George Mills and Susana Urra.

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