A Spanish High Court judge today ordered former deputy Catalan premier Oriol Junqueras and seven other former members of the regional cabinet to be held in pre-trial custody, after questioning them over their role in their illegal bid to secede from Spain.
The entire Catalan government was removed on October 28 after the separatist coalition in power voted to declare independence inside the regional assembly. The central government in Madrid used powers under Article 155 of the Constitution to temporarily suspend Catalonia’s powers of self-governance, and called regional elections for December 21.
Judge Carmen Lamela today decided to hold all eight former officials in custody. They face charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.
Only Santi Vila, the former head of the Catalan business department, has evaded preventive prison, and was instructed instead to post a bond of €50,000. Vila was the only summoned official to take questions from someone other than his own lawyer today. He resigned before the regional assembly voted on the unilateral independence declaration, to underscore his opposition to it.
The judge decided that the suspects are a flight risk because of their high incomes and the fact that other former officials who had been summoned to court on the same day instead fled to Belgium – including former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont.
Junqueras, Jordi Turull (from the presidency department), Raül Romeva (international affairs), Josep Rull (territory), Carles Mundó (justice), Meritxell Borràs (government), Joaquim Forn (interior) and Dolors Bassa (labor) were all due to immediately be taken to jail on Thursday evening.
The judge decided that the suspects are a flight risk because the summoned officials fled to Belgium
Borràs and Bassa were later taken to jail in Alcalá de Henares; Turull, Romeva, Rull, Forn, Junqueras, Mundó and Vila were reunited in Estremera after having been earlier held at a number of different prison facilities.
Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of the pro-independence groups National Catalan Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium, are currently being held without bail in Soto del Real prison ahead of trial for sedition charges, based on their role organizing protests during Civil Guard and National Police operations aimed at seizing material destined for the October 1 illegal referendum on independence in the region.
In her writ, the judge said today that the suspects’ actions were “premeditated and perfectly prepared and organized.” For over two years they systematically ignored decisions issued by the Constitutional Court in their drive for independence, wrote Judge Carmen Lamela.
To achieve independence for Catalonia, the accused, according to the judge, “made use of the population to encourage acts of public insurrection, disobedience and collective resistance to the legitimate authority of the state, occupying to that effect highways, streets and public buildings and subjecting officers of the law to incessant harassment.”
The request submitted to the High Court judge in charge of this stage of the case also includes the former Catalan ministers Antoni Comín, Meritxell Serret, Lluís Puig and Clara Ponsati.
The High Court public prosecutor requested an arrest warrant for former Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont
The writ reads: “The accused Carles Puigdemont Casamajo has publicly stated his intention to not appear in court and has requested, as have Antonio Comín and Meritxell Serret, to address the court via videolink, without offering any information about their location. In light of the foregoing, the court is called upon to order a national and international search and arrest warrant.”
Belgian prosecutors said that as soon as they receive the European arrest warrant, they will apply the law. The federal ministry will be the recipient and thus in charge of carrying it out, according to sources familiar with the situation. Spanish diplomats in Belgium said that there have never been any problems with Belgian authorities, and that they expect full cooperation on the legal and police fronts. Puigdemont’s lawyers, particularly the Belgian attorney Paul Bekaer, have promised to try to prevent his arrest if an EU warrant comes through.
Reaction from politicians was swift to follow news today of the jailing of the eight former members of the Catalan government. On Twitter, the leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, called for “freedom for political prisoners.” “I am ashamed that in my country opponents are locked up. We don’t want independence for Catalonia, but today we say: freedom for political prisoners,” he wrote.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau posted on Twitter that it was “a black day for Catalonia.” “The government democratically chosen at the ballot boxes, in jail,” she wrote.