Jailing Catalan leaders would cause ‘irreparable’ harm

A Belgian judge says imprisoning dismissed Catalan leaders would cause ‘irreparable harm’, according to legal documents.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont attends a memorial event at the tomb of former president of the Generalitat, the regional government, Lluis Companys in Barcelona,
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont attends a memorial event in Barcelona [File: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado]

The dismissed Catalan leaders who are currently in Belgium have not been jailed because their “imprisonment would have caused irreparable damage”, a Belgian judge said in a legal judgment obtained by Catalan daily Ara.

Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and other members of the sacked regional government fled to Brussels late last month after the region’s parliament declared independence from Spain. 

Spanish courts issued a warrant for their arrest in early November on charges of sedition and rebellion, among others. The Catalan politicians were released on November 6 after less than a day in Belgian custody.

The ex-ministers face an extradition hearing set for this Friday. They are not allowed to leave the country.

Gonzalo Boye, a Spanish human rights lawyer representing Mertixell Serret and Antoni Comin, two ex-Catalan ministers currently in Brussels, said the Belgian judge’s words were at odds with those of Spanish Judge Carme Lamela.

Lamela has sent nine Catalan politicians, including dismissed Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party, to prison since the beginning of November.

It’s “quite clear” the Spanish and Belgian courts have “totally opposite” approaches to handling the question of Catalan independence, Boye told Al Jazeera.

“It’s difficult to understand such a difference in criteria,” he continued, saying the judicial discord was unique in the history of the European Union.

Political crisis

The judge’s remarks are the latest development in the Catalan independence crisis which began on October 1, when the Catalan regional government held a disputed referendum on independence.

The Spanish national government sent national police and the Civil Guard, a military regiment tasked with domestic policing, to stop the referendum. The tactics used by law enforcement to stop the referendum have been called “excessive” by rights groups.

The dismissed Catalan government said 90 percent of voters chose independence that day, though turnout was less than 50 percent.

After a political back-and-forth between Puigdemont and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in October, the Catalan parliament voted for independence on October 27, the day before the Spanish government enacted Article 155 of the Constitution, a previously unused measure that allows the central government to administer the breakaway region.

Rajoy has since called elections for December 21.

Pro-independence party PDeCAT announced its list for the election this week. Their list is still headed by Puigdemont. Likewise, ERC announced a list with Junqueras at the top, along with other imprisoned and dismissed ex-ministers.

Albert Rivera, the president of the populist right Citizens party, which has been firmly against Catalan secession, was concerned by the PDeCAT and ERC choosing to put forward pro-independence legislators.

During a debate with Rivera in the national parliament about the Catalan crisis, Rajoy said the Spanish government has “two important allies: the Constitution and the law”, and that the elections will return Catalonia to normalcy.

Gabriel Rufian, of the Catalan Republican Left party, held a pair of handcuffs during the debate and told Rajoy “this is the dialogue that your government applied”, referencing the imprisoned Catalan government.

The National Catalan Assembly (ANC), a pro-independence organising group, paid a 25,000 euro ($29,500) bond each for three members of the Catalan parliament – Anna Simo, Lluis Guino, Ramona Barrufet, and Lluis Corominas, a former member.

Jordi Sanchez, leader of the ANC, along with Jordi Cuixart, leader of the other prominent pro-independence organisation, Omnium Cultural, have been imprisoned without bail on charges of sedition since October.

Boye, the lawyer for Serret and Comin, said the Belgian courts will have up to 10 days to decide whether or not the self-exiled Catalan government will be extradited after the Friday hearing.

Lawyers defending the Catalan exiles will have 15 days to appeal in the case of a pro-extradition decision.

Source: Al Jazeera