EU court says Spain should have freed Catalan MEP to take office

ECJ says Oriol Junqueras, who was sentenced to 13 years in jail over independence bid, enjoyed immunity as MEP.

    Former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras has been a lifelong supporter of Catalan independence [File: Paul White/AP]
    Former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras has been a lifelong supporter of Catalan independence [File: Paul White/AP]

    The Spanish courts should have released Catalan independence activist Oriol Junqueras from prison so he could assume his role as an MEP after May's elections, the European Court of Justice has said.

    Junqueras enjoyed an immunity that "entails lifting any measure of provisional detention imposed prior to the declaration of that member's election," the court said, in a ruling read by ECJ president Koen Lenaerts.

    The development on Thursday is a boost for the Catalan separatist movement and Junqueras, who has been imprisoned in Spain since November 2017 after an independence referendum that was deemed illegal.

    He was sentenced in October to 13 years in jail over sedition and misuse of public funds related to the region's failed independence bid.

    If Spanish authorities wanted to prevent Junqueras travelling to the European Parliament, they would have to request that Parliament waive his immunity, the court ruled.

    A former historian who headed the left-wing ERC party, Junqueras has been a lifelong supporter of Catalan independence.

    ERC said Junqueras's trial in Spain should be declared void, shortly after the ECJ court ruling.

    The news on Thursday followed a Belgian court's decision on Monday to delay a ruling on whether to extradite fugitive former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to Spain.

    Puigdemont's lawyers said the judge wants to let the ECJ rule first on whether he also has immunity linked to his election to the European Parliament in May.

    Puigdemont fled to Brussels to avoid arrest in Spain for organising the 2017 independence referendum. The Brussels court has set a new hearing for February 3.

    SOURCE: News agencies