Jailed Catalan separatists to enter Spanish parliament

Agence France-Presse . Madrid | Published at 02:05pm on May 21, 2019

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Jailed Catalan politicians Josep Rull, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Turull leave after getting their parliamentary credentials at Spanish Parliament, in Madrid, Spain, May 20, 2019. — Reuters photo

Five Catalan separatist leaders who won election to the Spanish parliament will be allowed to leave jail for a few hours on Tuesday while they are sworn in.

The five, who are on trial for their role in an October 2017 Catalonian secession attempt, were elected in an April 28 general election which saw acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists win the most seats.

Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sanchez, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull all won seats in the Congress, the lower house of parliament, while Raul Romeva was elected to the senate, the upper house.

Spain’s Supreme Court, which has been trying the five men since February, allowed them to leave jail on Monday to obtain their formal certificates as elected lawmakers.

In jail for over a year, they will once again be allowed out of jail on Tuesday to attend the opening session of parliament which gets underway at 10:00am.

‘They want to silence and marginalise us, and the ballot box has given our voice back,’ Junqueras, a former Catalan vice president and the head of leftist Catalan separatist party ERC, told AFP in a written interview from jail.

Junqueras is also standing in European Parliament elections on Sunday.

Since 2017 Catalan separatist parties have filed as candidates in elections leaders who are in jail or self-imposed exile over their role in Catalonia’s failed separatist push, such as former regional president Carlos Puigdemont.

The goal is to draw attention to their plight or create pressure for their release.

The five will be escorted by police to parliament on Tuesday where they will swear to respect the Spanish constitution — the same constitution which they are accused of having violated with their independence push.

The conservative Popular Party and centre-right Ciudadanos have said they will try to stop the five men from occupying their seats in parliament.

‘Spanish democracy must also defend itself outside of the courts against those who want to end it,’ said PP leader Pablo Casado.

Both the lower and upper house of parliament will have to decide whether to suspend the five jailed Catalan leaders.

In its ruling released last week, the Supreme Court rejected a request from the five that they be permanently released from jail on the grounds that their right to freedom of expression was begin violated.

The court also said the permission to leave jail on Tuesday to attend the opening session of parliament was ‘exceptional’, and did not clarify if they will be allowed to attend debates.

Sanchez’s Socialists lack a majority in parliament. To be sworn in again as prime minister, he is likely to rely on some parties abstaining from voting.

If the jailed Catalan MPs are not allowed to take part in Sanchez’s investiture vote, the threshold to be approved will be lower and he could be sworn in without relying on Catalan separatist parties abstaining.

Sanchez, who in June 2018 took over from Mariano Rajoy, a conservative, as prime minister, has bet on dialogue with Catalonia to try to ease tensions sparked by the region’s separatist push.

Conservative parties repeatedly attack his overtures to the separatists who still rule Catalonia and instead call for the wealthy northeastern region’s autonomy to be suspended.

Catalan separatists, who consider Junqueras and the other 11 leaders on trail in Madrid as ‘political prisoners’, send Sanchez mixed messages.

The ERC has said it is open to dialogue but it insists on holding an independence referendum in Catalonia, which Sanchez steadfastly refuses.

Catalan separatist parties last week blocked the nomination of the Socialists’ leader in Catalonia, Miquel Iceta, to be the speaker of the senate.

In response Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell, who is a Catalan, blasted the separatists’ for their ‘totalitarian attitude’.

Sanchez then nominated another Catalan to be speaker of the Senate, philosopher Manuel Cruz, as well as a Catalan to be speaker of the lower house, acting minister for territorial policy Meritxell Batet.