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Catalan independence leaders begin indefinite hunger strike in prison

The politicians, who are in pre-trial custody, say they have been blocked from appealing their cases with European courts

Catalan independence leaders (l-r) Jordi Sànchez, Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Cuixart, Josep Rull and Raül Romeva.
Catalan independence leaders (l-r) Jordi Sànchez, Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Cuixart, Josep Rull and Raül Romeva.

Catalan independence leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Turull began an indefinite hunger strike on Saturday to protest against the Constitutional Court for blocking their appeals to the European Court of Human Rights.

We are not asking for favorable treatment but nor are we asking for discrimination and unjustified delay

Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Turull

Sànchez and Turull are in pre-trial detention at Lledoners prison in Barcelona for their involvement in events surrounding last year’s unauthorized referendum on Catalan independence. Prosecutors are seeking a 17-year jail term for Sànchez for rebellion and a 16-year term for Turull for rebellion and misuse of public funds. They are due to be tried next year.

Since their announcement, two more independence leaders have joined the hunger strike: Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn. On Monday, the ousted deputies, who are also in pre-trial detention in Lledoners prison for their involvement in the separatist drive, explained: “It is an extreme protest measure. Our decision is legitimized by the injustice we suffer, the abuse of our fundamental rights and the judicial arbitrariness.”

Blocked appeals

The independence leaders claim that the Constitutional Court has systematically blocked all of their attempts to appeal to the EU court. All eight of their constitutional complaints were admitted by the Spanish court but have not yet been resolved, meaning the politicians cannot take their case to Strasbourg.

Jordi Sànchez in a file photo.
Jordi Sànchez in a file photo. AP

In a statement released on Friday, the Catalan independence leaders argued: “The Constitutional Court has blocked us from appealing our cases with the European justice system. Their action is as simple as it is poorly disguised: they agree to process 100% of the appeals and resolve none.”

“We are not asking for favorable treatment, but nor are we asking for discrimination and unjustified delay. Not even for a favorable sentence: simply that they reject or dismiss the appeals. This is the only way to unblock access to European justice,” they explained in the press release.

“We are not going on a hunger strike against anyone but rather to raise awareness and stop what is not normal from becoming the norm.”

The first constitutional appeal was filed on November 22, 2017 and according to the independence leaders, it should have been resolved within 30 days.

The pro-Catalan independence association Òmnium Cultural released a photo of Sànchez and Turull with other independence leaders in pre-trial detention on Friday with the caption: “Today, like yesterday, unity, serenity and courage. Long live the Republic.” Authorities at the penitentiary said they had not authorized the sharing of the photo.

Fair trial

Following the announcement of the hunger strike, the Socialist Party (PSOE) government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez maintained that the politicians will receive a fair trial: “The government reminds the independence leaders that they have the protection and the guarantees of a state of law.”

The doctor responsible for Sánchez and Turull, Jaume Padrós, said he informed the politicians of the health risks of a hunger strike, which include fatigue, digestive problems, disrupted sleeping patterns and loss of muscle mass. The first complication is hypoglycemia, a condition caused by low blood sugar, and ultimately the risk of coma and death.

Jordi Turull in a file photo.
Jordi Turull in a file photo. REUTERS

Prison authorities said Sànchez and Turull must continue to follow the daily routine at the prison, and, like the rest of the inmates, must go to the mess hall at meal times.

“In the case of a hunger strike, the doctors at the penitentiary center monitor the inmates’ state of health checking blood pressure, weight, and conducting blood tests, among others,” said prison authorities, who added that the politicians would be moved to the hospital unit of the Terrassa prison if they need medical attention. “As an extreme measure, a judge could authorize forced feeding administered through a drip,” they added.

Catalan premier Quim Torra has supported the hunger strike as a “strong and drastic measure against the violation of citizen, civilian and political rights.” “The criminal code is being applied shamefully, establishing ad hoc legality to attack political dissidents,” he added.

Our decision is legitimized by the injustice we suffer, the abuse of our fundamental rights and the judicial arbitrariness

Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn

Ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Brussels, has also backed the measure, writing: “Shame on the Spanish state! Power and strength to you.”

Rull, Turull and Sànchez are members of the pro-independence party Together for Catalonia (Junts per Catalunya) which is headed by Puigdemont. Forn was a deputy for the party but gave up his seat in early January.

The four independence leaders from the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which is considered the more moderate nationalist party, and Jordi Cuixart, the former president of the civic association Òminum Cultural, have not joined the protest

A website called vagadefam has been set up to explain the reasons for the hunger strike.

A total of 18 people – including the hunger-striking independence leaders – are due to face trial in the Supreme Court in early 2019 for their involvement in the Catalan independence challenge.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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