Catalonia protests over custody for eight ousted cabinet members
Trial pending on charges linked to drive for independence, including rebellion and sedition
There were demonstrations across Catalonia on Thursday night after a Spanish judge ordered eight members of the deposed government of Catalonia to be remanded in custody pending trial for charges related to the region’s drive for independence, including rebellion and sedition.
Mr Puigdemont and all 13 members of his cabinet were called to appear in the High Court on Thursday. However, with the former leader and four others having travelled to Brussels earlier this week, only nine of the cited politicians attended the preliminary hearing.
High court judge Carmen Lamela accepted the prosecutor’s office request that those cited should be detained because they might “abandon Spanish territory and stay abroad”.
Among those jailed was Mr Puigdemont’s former deputy, Oriol Junqueras. Their former colleague Santi Vila, who resigned last week in protest at the Catalan parliament’s decision to approve a declaration of independence, was set bail of €50,000.
The decision to remand the others without bail drew an outraged response from pro-independence politicians.
Speaking from Brussels, Mr Puigdemont said: “I demand the release of [those held] and the end of political repression.”
Marta Rovira, the secretary general of Mr Junqueras’s Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party, said: “Today the Spanish state is a failed state, democratically it has failed, it has reached bottom.”
On October 1st, Mr Puigdemont’s government staged an independence referendum deemed illegal by the constitutional court. The result of that vote – 90 per cent in favour of secession, with a turnout of 43 per cent, according to Catalan authorities – led to the regional parliament issuing an independence proclamation on October 27th.
On the same day, the Spanish government implemented direct rule in Catalonia, sacking Mr Puigdemont and his cabinet and calling elections for December.
Soon after Thursday’s court decision, demonstrations started in several cities across Catalonia, including outside the region’s parliament in Barcelona.
The governing Popular Party (PP) and opposition Socialists, meanwhile, insisted justice was being done.
“I respect judicial decisions and the rule of law, with which we must all comply,” said PP spokesman Pablo Casado.
The High Court is expected to decide whether to issue a warrant for Mr Puigdemont’s arrest in the coming hours. If it does, the Belgian authorities will have to decide whether to detain and extradite him.
On Tuesday, Mr Puigdemont said he still considered himself the legitimate Catalan president. Although he insisted he was not seeking asylum in Belgium, he said he would not return to Spain unless guarantees he would be treated fairly were in place.
Speaking to Dutch TV, his lawyer, Paul Bekaert, warned that the Spanish judiciary’s actions could backfire.
“If they arrest him, they’ll turn him into a martyr,” he said.
In a related case, the Supreme Court on Thursday summoned six officials of the dissolved Catalan parliament, including former parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell. They were also facing charges stemming from the declaration of independence, but their parliamentary status meant only Spain’s top court could investigate them.
However, that hearing was postponed until November 9th, after lawyers representing Ms Forcadell and the other officials requested more time to prepare. In the meantime, they have been put under police surveillance.