Jailed Catalan politician appeals for release ahead of trial

Oriol Junqueras a candidate to lead Catalonia if exiled president does not return

Deposed Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras has told magistrates he is "a man of peace" in a bid to persuade them he should be released from prison and allowed to resume his political duties.

Mr Junqueras, who has been in jail in Madrid pending trial since November 2nd, appeared in the supreme court on Thursday morning. He had requested the hearing in the hope of convincing the tribunal he poses no threat of being seen to repeat the crimes he is accused of, which include sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

The former Catalan vice-president is among several politicians who are awaiting trial for promoting secession via an outlawed referendum and an October 27th unilateral declaration of independence. The Spanish government responded to the independence drive by introducing direct rule in the region, removing Mr Junqueras, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and the rest of the regional government from office.

Religious faith

“I am a man of peace,” the defendant told judges, according to Spanish media, which cited court sources. Mr Junqueras also referred to his religious faith as he insisted he did not believe in the use of violence to achieve political goals.

Mr Junqueras also argues his continued imprisonment is unfair on those who voted for him and for his Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party in a regional election last month.

The court’s decision is expected soon and could be announced today. However, anticipating the request for his release is likely to be rejected, Mr Junqueras’s legal team has also asked that he be moved to a Catalan prison and be allowed to be sworn in as a deputy and attend parliamentary sessions when the new legislature begins later this month.

ERC is currently in talks with Mr Puigdemont’s electoral platform, Together for Catalonia, over who should lead the new regional government. Together for Catalonia was the leading separatist force in last month’s election, which saw pro-independence parties retain their parliamentary majority. But Mr Puigdemont is in exile in Belgium, claiming he faces unfair judicial treatment by the Spanish state.

During the campaign he promised to return to Spain, although with an arrest order in place against him, he would almost certainly be detained on arrival, raising uncertainty over whether or not he will attempt to use the pro-independence majority to be invested as president.

“Plan A is the legitimate president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, who said he would return,” said ERC congressman Gabriel Rufián, speaking outside the supreme court. “If, in the end, he doesn’t return, then we back plan B, Oriol Junqueras [as president]. That would be the closest thing to restoring the legitimate government of Catalonia.”

Meanwhile, Ciudadanos, the unionist party which won the most seats in the election but looks unlikely to be able to form a government, is hoping one of its politicians will be the new Catalan parliamentary speaker.

“Ciudadanos must chair parliament in order to prevent the separatist parties from repeating the same outrages and breaking the law as they did before,” said Inés Arrimadas, leader of the party in the region.