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Spanish court lets newly elected Catalan MPs leave jail to take office

But all five, who are on trial for the 2017 secession bid, must return to prison after the opening sessions of parliament on May 21

Catalan independence leaders on trial at the Supreme Court.
Catalan independence leaders on trial at the Supreme Court. EFE

Spain’s Supreme Court will allow five newly elected members of parliament who are in preventive custody over their role in the 2017 Catalan independence drive to attend the opening sessions of Congress and the Senate and take office on May 21.

However, all five will remain in prison before and after this “extraordinary” outing, said the court in a decision made public on Tuesday. Attorneys for Oriol Junqueras, a former Catalan deputy premier who heads the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Jordi Sànchez had requested their release in order to let them fulfill their duties as elected lawmakers.

Previous requests for their release had also met with refusal by the court, which considers the defendants as a flight risk. Former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont and several of his Cabinet members fled Spain shortly after their attempt at a unilateral secession from Spain in 2017. Earlier this month, Spanish courts ruled that Puigdemont may run in the European elections of May 26 despite being a fugitive from justice.

ERC leader Oriol Junqueras at the trial.
ERC leader Oriol Junqueras at the trial.

The independence leaders who stayed behind are now being tried on allegations ranging from rebellion to misuse of public funds during the breakaway bid and the unauthorized referendum that preceded it.

The Supreme Court, under the guidance of Chief Justice Manuel Marchena, said on Tuesday that measures must be taken to ensure that the security of all five new parliamentarians will be guaranteed during their journey from the penitentiary to parliament and back.

The court, where the trial began in February, did not share the defense’s view that preventive custody violates the rights of the newly elected legislators. “This penal process does not criminalize any ideology,” said the justices in their written decision.

The prisoners’ lawyers had argued that their clients now enjoyed parliamentary immunity and could not continue being tried unless parliament gave explicit consent. But the Supreme Court noted that the defendants were formally charged long before the April 28 general election that gave them their seats in Congress and the Senate, and that immunity cannot be granted retroactively.

No televised debate

Spain’s election authority, the Junta Electoral (JEC), has decided that Oriol Junqueras may not participate in a televised debate between candidates to the European elections, to be aired tonight by the Catalan station TV-3.

The time of the debate, 10pm, clashes with penitentiary schedules because inmates must be back in their cells at that time, the JEC argued. The fact that the ERC leader would have to be taken to a separate room for a video link would “gravely disturb” regular prison routines.

English version by Susana Urra.

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