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Spanish court refuses to release two prominent Catalan ex-officials

Supreme Court lets six out on bail, but keeps former deputy and interior chief behind bars as campaign begins

Suspects entering the Supreme Court.
Suspects entering the Supreme Court. EL PAÍS

Spain’s Supreme Court has decided to release six Catalan politicians from pre-trial custody but to keep the two most prominent ones behind bars.

Former deputy premier Oriol Junqueras, of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), and his ex-minister for interior affairs Joaquim Forn will remain in detention after Justice Pablo Llarena determined that there is a risk that both would go back to committing the same crimes if released.

The group had argued that failing to release them would violate their legal right to participate in political life

The heads of two prominent pro-independence associations are also being kept in custody while an investigation into rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds is underway in connection with the illegal independence drive.

Justice Llarena set bail of €100,000 for each of the other six former officials. By Monday afternoon all six had posted bail, and at 2pm they were informed that they were free to go. Before walking out of Estremera and Alcalá-Meco penitentiaries, in the Madrid region, the former officials were reminded of their obligation to report to a court weekly, and to remain within Spanish territory.

A few minutes before 4pm, Dolors Bassa and Maritxell Borràs left Alcalá-Meco, where they were greeted by members of the Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDeCAT).

“I’ve been able to hug Meritxell Borrás, minister of my country. We never want to go back to Alcalá Meco,” tweeted David Bonvehí, the organization secretary at PDeCAT, the leading party in the Junts pel Si coalition that governed Catalonia until its ouster under Article 155 of the Constitution.

Marta Pascal, the PDeCAT, was at Estremera, where she alluded to the four individuals who remain in pre-trial detention: “We are dismayed and angry that they will not all sleep in their homes, and we believe this is arbitrary and unacceptable. We disagree with the decision.”

The decision will influence the Catalan election campaign, which officially kicks off tonight at midnight. Seven of the jailed politicians are candidates for separatist parties in the December 21 election, and on Friday they had given the court assurances that from now on they would pursue their political goals within the bounds of the law.

It had been widely expected that Justice Pablo Llarena would release the entire group as a further step towards restoring normalcy in a region where the entire government was ousted by the central administration following the independence declaration of late October.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked Article 155 of the Constitution for the first time in Spain’s modern democratic history. Under the emergency powers granted by this provision, Rajoy also called an early election in Catalonia, where it is hoped that the new government that emerges from the polls will no longer overstep Spain’s legal framework, regardless of its political beliefs.

The former government officials, including ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), were placed in pre-trial custody on November 2 by a judge at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s High Court, after she took statements from them. The heads of two leading pro-independence associations are also in custody. All of them are being investigated for rebellion and sedition.

But several other suspects, including Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, were heard by the Supreme Court, which decided to release them on bail after they pledged to observe Article 155 of the Constitution.

This court recently took over from the Audiencia Nacional, bringing together all related cases under Justice Llarena, who heard Junqueras and his aides last Friday. In their petitions for release, all eight pledged to abide by Article 155 despite “disagreeing politically and legally” with it.

The group had argued that failing to release them so they can campaign for office would violate their legal right to participate in political life, and would also violate voters’ right to elect them. The pro-independence association heads Jordi Sànchez, of Asamblea Nacional Catalana (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, of Òmnium Cultural, similarly said that they will observe constitutional legislation from now on.

But prosecutors remained unconvinced and say that the accused represent a flight risk, that they might destroy evidence or commit the same offenses all over again. Justice Llarena said that Junqueras and Forn are not a flight risk, but that they may commit the same crimes again if released.

English version by Susana Urra.

Campaigning from Brussels

Former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont has his own day in court on Monday, when he will try to convince a judge in Belgium – where he fled following the independence declaration – that he should not be sent back to Spain.

At the hearing, Puigdemont and four other ex-officials who fled with him will claim that if they are extradited to face charges of rebellion and sedition, they will face a “political trial” with “no legal guarantees.”

“It is unsustainable to hold elections in Catalonia when many of the candidates are in prison,” said Puigdemont in an interview with De Standaard.

The judge will not be making a decision on Monday.

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