Court suspends flexible prison scheme for Catalan separatist leaders

Prosecutors argued the move was not aimed at rehabilitating the prisoners, who were jailed for their involvement in the 2017 breakaway bid, but rather at softening their sentence

(l-r) Jailed separatist leaders Joaquim Forn, Jordi Cuixart, Oriol Junqueras and Raul Romeva outside Lledoners prison on Tuesday.
(l-r) Jailed separatist leaders Joaquim Forn, Jordi Cuixart, Oriol Junqueras and Raul Romeva outside Lledoners prison on Tuesday.CRISTÓBAL CASTRO

A penitentiary court in Catalonia has ordered the suspension of a flexible prison scheme granted to five jailed separatist leaders.

The decision affects former Catalan deputy premier Oriol Junqueras of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party; former regional department chiefs Joaquim Forn and Raül Romeva; and the heads of two civil society associations, Jordi Cuixart of Òmnium Cultural and Jordi Sànchez of Asamblea Nacional Catalana (ANC).

On October 14, 2019, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced these individuals to between eight and 13 years in prison after finding them guilty of sedition in connection with the unilateral breakaway attempt of October 2017.

Under the Grade 3 regime, convicts are allowed day release and spend only the nights of Monday through Thursday in prison

In early July, the assessment boards of the prisons where they are serving their sentences approved their move to Spain’s tercer grado, or Grade 3 regime. Under this regime, convicts are allowed day release and spend only the nights of Monday through Thursday in prison. The decision was later ratified by the Catalan government’s justice department.

But Barcelona public prosecutors appealed the decision on Tuesday, arguing the move sought to “drain the content of the [Supreme Court] ruling.” Prosecutors maintained that the flexible prison regime was not aimed at rehabilitating the convicts but rather at “solely and exclusively changing the sentencing decision and its effective enforcement.” The prosecutors said that the separatist leaders had not received prison treatment “in accordance to their crimes,” and pointed out that the Grade 3 regime had been granted to Junqueras and Romeva before they had served one-fourth of their sentence, which is one of the requisites for its approval. The prosecutors added that the jailed leaders had not shown any “evolution” with respect to their actions, highlighting that Junqueras recently told the media: “I met my commitments and I am proud of what I did.”

The separatist leaders have three days to appeal the verdict. While the court decides whether to maintain or revoke the flexible prison scheme, the convicts will return to Grade 2, which allows only a maximum of 36 days leave a year. According to sources from the Catalan High Court, the suspension is immediate, meaning the five prisoners are likely to be back in the more restrictive regime on Wednesday.

Catalan premier Quim Torra, a fierce supporter of the Catalan independence movement, criticized the court’s ruling in a message on social media. “No, the law does not include revenge as a response. Is this the dialogue Spain is offering?” he wrote.

The public prosecutor also appealed the Grade 3 prison regime granted to former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, who was sentenced to 11 years and six months for sedition for her involvement in the breakaway bid. The penitentiary court is yet to announce its verdict in this case.

Prosecutors have not yet formally called for the suspension of the flexible prison regime granted to former regional department chiefs Dolors Bassa, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull, the remaining three separatist leaders in jail.

Before entering Grade 3, all nine separatist leaders had been allowed out of prison for specific periods of time under article 100.2 of the Penitentiary Regulations, which enables inmates to go to work or care for dependents. Former deputy premier Junqueras was allowed out on March 3 to start teaching classes at Vic University in Manresa, while Forcadell was able to leave three times a week to work as a volunteer and help her mother. Last Thursday, the Supreme Court revoked the permissions conceded to Forcadell, arguing it was a clandestine way of offering a more flexible prison regime.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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