Supreme Court revokes open prison regime granted to jailed Catalan separatist leaders

The top tribunal’s ruling said it is ‘premature’ for the prisoners to be allowed more flexible conditions for their incarceration, and rejected regional penitentiary and government suggestions that they had been jailed for their political beliefs

Joaquim Forn, Raül Romeva, Jordi Cuixart and Oriol Junqueras pictured in July, after their more flexible prison regime was revoked.
Joaquim Forn, Raül Romeva, Jordi Cuixart and Oriol Junqueras pictured in July, after their more flexible prison regime was revoked.Cristóbal Castro
Reyes Rincón

Catalan separatist leaders who were convicted for their role in the 2017 unilateral breakaway attempt will remain in prison after the Spanish Supreme Court revoked the open regime granted to them by the Catalan government. That move had been appealed and was pending a decision by the court.

Supreme Court justices said it is “premature” for the prisoners to be moved to a flexible regime, and that more time needs to elapse in order to assess the inmates’ progress, especially in light of the fact that they have served less than half of their prison terms.

The acting premier of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, called the decision “an insult to all democrats”

In its ruling, the court censured Catalan penitentiary and government authorities’ suggestion that the independence leaders were jailed because of their political beliefs. “[Former Catalan deputy premier Oriol] Junqueras was not convicted for his pro-independence ideology,” reads the court’s decision. “He was declared guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds based on facts that were proven at a historic trial. Nobody serves time in a penitentiary for their political ideas.”

The acting premier of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, called the decision “an insult to all democrats.”

“A year after an unfair ruling we see that the Supreme Court persists in its quest for revenge,” he added. “This is a court that is controlled by the far right, which seeks to place hurdles on the path to a democratic solution [to the Catalan independence drive].”

On October 14, 2019, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine individuals to prison terms ranging from eight to 13 years after finding them guilty of sedition in connection with the secession attempt. They are Oriol Junqueras of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party, ex-government ministers Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull and Dolors Bassa; ex-cabinet ministers Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn; former speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell; and the leaders of the civil society groups Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart.

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 flexible system, 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, arguing the move sought to “drain the content of the [Supreme Court] ruling.” Prosecutors maintained that the flexible regime was not aimed at rehabilitating the convicts but rather at “solely and exclusively changing the sentencing decision and its effective enforcement.”

Pardons being reviewed

In practical terms, the Supreme Court’s decision only affects Forcadell, who was sentenced to 11 and a half years, and Bassa, who was sentenced to 12 years. They were the only ones currently under the flexible regime. The other seven convicts, who are serving their terms at a men’s prison, were briefly placed on tercer grado as well but were returned to the ordinary regime in late July.

The Spanish government, headed by a center-left coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos, is reviewing pardon requests for the jailed separatist leaders, and it is also working on a reform of the criminal code that would halve the prison terms for sedition, leading to an automatic reduction of the prison terms imposed on the nine pro-independence leaders.

With reporting by Camilo S. Baquero.

English version by Susana Urra.

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