Jailing of Catalan politicians could lead to backlash
Judicial decision is likely to have profound political repercussions
First the Catalan parliament, then the Spanish government, now the judiciary. In the last few days, each of these institutions has used the most drastic instrument at its disposal to respond to Spain’s territorial crisis.
On October 27th, the pro-independence majority in the northeastern region’s parliament hurriedly approved a declaration of independence. Within minutes, the Spanish senate had rendered that proclamation obsolete by approving prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s plan to implement direct rule in Catalonia.
And on Thursday, it was the judicial system’s turn. When nine members of the deposed Catalan government appeared before the high court as part of its investigation into alleged sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, the judge had the option of releasing them, pending trial. But instead, magistrate Carmen Lamela chose to jail eight of the politicians, only setting bail for Santi Vila, who had opposed last week’s unilateral declaration.
The judiciary and the Spanish government have insisted that the legal action taken against the leaders of the independence movement is technically sound and that the country’s separation of powers is robust.
But the atmosphere surrounding the Catalan dispute is so highly charged that, under the current circumstances, even a purely judicial decision was likely to have profound political repercussions.
The Catalan government has long claimed that Spanish democracy is flawed and that a politicised judiciary is one of its biggest weaknesses. However much the Spanish state’s defenders may protest, that claim will now be amplified as Lamela’s decision is added to the long list of grievances pro-independence Catalans harbour against Madrid.
Ignacio Escolar, editor of El Diario newspaper warned that the high court’s hard line “only serves to hand arguments on a plate to those who portray Spanish democracy as an authoritarian state, as a country that is incapable of finding a political solution to political problems”.
The independence movement already has two civic leaders in prison pending trial: Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart. Now eight of its political leaders join them, including Oriol Junqueras, until recently the deputy to president Carles Puigdemont. The Spanish government had been hoping that the weeks leading up to the December 21st regional election would see it take advantage of the disorientated state of the independence movement by demonstrating an ability to implement direct rule in an unobtrusive, efficient way.
But the jailing of Junqueras and his colleagues could be provocative enough to reinvigorate many Catalans and make the election an even more bitter and divisive contest than it was going to be already.
Puigdemont has been hoping to use his Belgian exile to put the Catalan situation more firmly under the nose of Europe. But this judicial decision may have done that in a more effective manner.