Two jailed Catalan separatist leaders begin hunger strike

Lawyer says Sanchez and Turull are taking step to 'raise awareness' of unfair treatment by Spain before trial.

    Former minister Jordi Turull is one of the Catalan politicians who has started a hunger strike [Getty Images]
    Former minister Jordi Turull is one of the Catalan politicians who has started a hunger strike [Getty Images]

    Two Catalan separatist leaders jailed pending trial in Spain over their role in last year's failed independence bid have begun a hunger strike, their lawyer said.

    Jordi Sanchez, the former head of the influential grassroots ANC independence movement, and Jordi Turull, a former minister in the Catalan regional government, are taking this step to "raise awareness" of their unfair treatment by Spain's justice system, lawyer Jordi Pina told journalists in Barcelona on Saturday.

    After Catalonia declared independence from Spain last year, Madrid took direct control of the region and brought charges against Catalan leaders - including misuse of public funds and rebellion - nine of whom are in jail awaiting trial.

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    "I did not recommend this action, it is a decision of my clients and they have my full support," the lawyer said.

    In a statement read by Pina, the two men accused the Constitutional Court of blocking their appeals against their imprisonment from reaching the European Court of Human Rights.

    Pina said he did not know if the other Catalan separatist leaders jailed in the Lledoners penitentiary located some 70km north of Barcelona would later join the hunger strike.

    Spain's Supreme Court in October ordered a total of 18 former Catalan separatist leaders to stand trial. Prosecutors are seeking jail terms of up to 25 years.

    Trial expected in 2019

    The trial is expected to start in early 2019 and will focus on the attempt by Catalan leaders to break away from Spain in October 2017 by staging a referendum despite a court ban and subsequently proclaiming independence.

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    The announcement of the hunger strike comes a day after the first photo of the seven jailed Catalan leaders at the Lledoners prison was released by grassroots pro-independence organisation Omnium Cultural.

    The picture, which was splashed on the cover of Catalan newspapers on Saturday, shows the seven men smiling and wearing casual clothes in one of the courtyards of the prison.

    Spain's central government repeated its argument that the jailed Catalan separatist leaders would have a fair trial and their rights were being respected.

    "We operate under the rule of law, we can respect their personal decision [to go on a hunger strike] but we must also understand that we are all equal under the rule of law," Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told reporters.

    SOURCE: News agencies