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Jailed Catalan separatists take seats in Congress and Senate

The five pro-independence leaders have completed the paperwork to assume office after the Supreme Court granted them permission to leave jail, where they are being held in custody for their role in the 2017 separatist drive

Oriol Junqueras (l) in Congress with fellow ERC member Gabriel Rufián.
Oriol Junqueras (l) in Congress with fellow ERC member Gabriel Rufián. EFE

Five newly elected Catalan members of Spanish parliament who are in preventive custody for their involvement in the 2017 secession attempt left prison on Monday to complete the formalities to take office in Congress and the Senate in Madrid.

At the April 28 Spanish general elections, Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull of the Junts per Catalunya party (Together for Catalonia) and Oriol Junqueras, the leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), were elected as deputies in Congress, while Raül Romeva from the ERC won a seat in the Senate.

There is no Catalan cause, it is the cause for freedom

Newly elected deputy Josep Rull

The Spanish Supreme Court last week granted the newly elected members of parliament permission to leave prison to complete the required paperwork at the upper and lower house, on condition that they be guarded by police at all times, and returned to the Soto del Real prison in Madrid “as soon as possible.”

The four new Congress members arrived at the lower house a little after 10am on Monday in a Civil Guard van, and entered through a side door that is inaccessible to the public. A few minutes later, they were inside the building to fill out the documents that all newly elected parliamentarians must complete before they can officially take office, and to be present for the official photograph. The separatist leaders remained in Congress for 70 minutes, even though the process typically takes half an hour.

Oriol Junqueras (second right), Jordi Sànchez (l) and Josep Rull (fifth right) complete the paperwork to take office as deputies.
Oriol Junqueras (second right), Jordi Sànchez (l) and Josep Rull (fifth right) complete the paperwork to take office as deputies. EFE

Under the Supreme Court’s guidelines, the newly elected parliamentarians had been banned from spending time with family members or speaking to the press at Monday’s outing and at the opening session of Congress and the Senate on Tuesday, May 21. Laura Borrás, the new Congress spokesperson for Junts per Catalunya, said the restrictions placed on the separatist leaders were “regrettable” and “shameful.”

The independence leaders were joined by members of their party and lawyers inside Congress, and published messages on social media from within the building.

In a video on Twitter, Junqueras, who is facing up to 25 years in prison for rebellion and misuse of public funds for his involvement in the unauthorized referendum of October 1, 2017 and the unilateral independence declaration that followed, said he was proud to be elected as a deputy and called on the public to vote for the ERC at the upcoming municipal, regional and European elections on May 26 “to bring freedom to the country.”

The newly elected parliamentarians were banned from meeting with family members or speaking to the press

Newly elected Congress member Rull also shared a video from inside Congress, saying: “There is no Catalan cause, it is the cause of freedom.”

Police stood watch over the Catalan separatists for the entire time they were inside Congress, and also guarded the outside of the building. The five received the technological devices that are provided to all parliamentarians, but were forced to give it to friends for safekeeping while they remain in prison.

Meanwhile, Romeva arrived at the Senate at around 9.51am on Monday. He entered the building from the parking garage and finished the paperwork to take his seat in the Senate in seven minutes.

All five have also been given permission to leave prison to attend the opening sessions of Congress and the Senate on Tuesday, May 21.

Once they have been formally sworn in, the Supreme Court will notify Congress and the Senate that all five have been temporarily suspended from office, under Article 384 of the Criminal Prosecution Law, which automatically suspends any public official accused of rebellion.

If, as is likely, the Supreme Court confirms the suspension, it will be up to congressional leaders to decide whether the deputies should be temporarily replaced by others, or if the number of seats in Congress should be reduced to 346. Given that the Supreme Court does not want to alter government majorities, it is expected to let Congress find the best way to apply the suspension.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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