Supreme Court refuses to release Catalan separatists to campaign in upcoming elections

The justices overseeing the trial against the defendants for their role in the 2017 secession bid argue that the men, who will run in polls in April and May, pose a flight risk

The 12 defendants in the ongoing trial of Catalan independence leaders.
The 12 defendants in the ongoing trial of Catalan independence leaders.EMILIO NARANJO / AFP

Spain’s Supreme Court has turned down a petition to release six jailed Catalan separatist leaders currently being tried for their role in the 2017 unilateral secession attempt.

These defendants are also candidates in upcoming polls in Spain – a general election on April 28 and municipal, regional and European elections on May 26 – and their lawyers had requested their release so they could take part in the campaign.

The justices on the panel said that the reasons that led to these individuals’ imprisonment remain valid

But the court views the men as a flight risk. The seven justices on the panel said that the reasons that led to these individuals’ imprisonment remain valid, particularly since the hearings are still underway and if any defendant were to flee, it would cause “an important dysfunction” in the trial.

Nominees to the general election include former Catalan deputy premier Oriol Junqueras, former regional department chiefs Josep Rull, Jordi Turull and Raül Romeva, and Jordi Sànchez, the former leader of a pro-independence civil association named ANC. Another ex-department chief, Joaquim Forn, has announced plans to run for mayor of Barcelona in the May 26 elections.

Defense lawyers for the candidates had requested a switch from preventive prison to less onerous measures such as electronic monitoring devices, but the court said these would be “insufficient.”

The former Catalan premier, Carles Puigdemont, and six other politicians who were targeted by the courts over their role in the secession bid of October 2017 all fled Spain, and currently reside in Belgium, Britain and Switzerland.

Thursday hearing

On day 30 of a trial that is into its ninth week, 15 members of the National Police who were sent to stop the unauthorized referendum of October 1, 2017 in Catalonia gave evidence in court. Several of them noted the “passivity” of the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, and their statements suggested that the latter may have cooperated so the vote could go ahead.

One officer stated that Mossos took away ballot boxes inside their cars, although he could not ascertain whether or not these were being confiscated. Witnesses spoke of friendly attitudes between voters and the Mossos, who may have warned the former about the presence of National Police officers.

Police witness

A witness said that at one school, a person with a loudspeaker addressed the crowd: “The Mossos have just informed us to be careful because there are vehicles with [National] Police hanging around here.”

An officer who was stationed in Sabadell said that the crowds displayed a violent attitude toward the National Police. “When we reached the front line, and without even touching them, a few of [the voters] began screaming and pretending they’d been assaulted, and this made people turn against us,” he said. Police witnesses described seeing people with chains, sticks and helmets.

National Police officers also said they believed they were followed by individuals who might have been plainclothes Mossos on the day of the referendum. They described a gray Seat Ibiza car that showed up at more than one polling station. After sending the license plate number back to headquarters, they were informed that it was a Catalan government-owned car.

English version by Susana Urra.

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