Jailing of independence leaders further fuels Catalan crisis

Conflict not between Catalonia and Spain but between ‘legality and illegality’, says Madrid

A dispute over the actions of the judiciary has deepened Spain’s constitutional crisis, after the leaders of two civic independence organisations were jailed on charges of sedition.

On Monday night, Jordi Sánchez, of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, of Òmnium Cultural, were jailed pending investigation by a high court judge in Madrid. The two men are accused of impeding investigations into preparations for a recent independence referendum, by orchestrating mass demonstrations in Barcelona outside a building where the civil guard was carrying out searches for electoral material on September 20th and 21st.

"The final aim of these mobilisations was to ensure the staging of the referendum and with it the proclamation of a Catalan republic, independent from Spain. " noted judge Carmen Lamela.

The October 1st referendum, deemed illegal by the Spanish government, was marred by violence as Spanish police prevented many Catalans from voting. The final result, according to the Catalan government, was 90 per cent of votes in favour of independence, with a turnout of 43 percent.

"Spain jails Catalonia's civil society leaders for organising peaceful demonstrations," tweeted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, shortly after the news emerged that the ANC and Òmnium leaders had gone to prison. "Sadly, we have political prisoners again."

Videos prepared

With the independence movement anticipating this latest development, the two jailed men had prepared videos for their supporters.

“Welcome, friends, if you are watching this it is because the state apparatus has decided to curtail my freedom,” says Mr Cuixart in his video message.

The slickness of the secessionist camp’s response could also be seen with the publication of an online poster depicting the two men smiling and wearing white next to the slogan “Llibertat Jordis!” (“Free the Jordis!”).

The Catalan government has frequently complained that the Spanish judiciary is politicised, seeing further evidence of that trend on Tuesday, when the constitutional court struck down a law approved by the regional parliament allowing the recent referendum.

The leftist Podemos and the Catalan Socialists were among those who also criticised the decision to jail the two men.

But the central government has robustly countered claims that it was politically motivated.

"In Spain nobody is arrested for political reasons or for being in favour of independence, but rather for committing crimes," said a statement from the office of prime minister Mariano Rajoy, supporting the magistrate. "The crime is not 'peacefully demonstrating' but demonstrating in order to block the work of the judiciary, in a hostile and riotous fashion, provoking massive public disorder."

The statement continued: "This is not a conflict between Catalonia and Spain. The only conflict that exists is between legality and illegality."

Police chief released

The head of the Catalan police force, Josep Lluís Trapero, was released on Monday after being questioned by the high court, pending investigation. Mr Trapero also faces sedition charges based on his force’s failure to stop the referendum despite judicial orders to do so.

The Spanish government has given Mr Puigdemont until Thursday to halt his independence plans. On Monday, he responded to Madrid’s request for clarification on whether he had declared independence last week by calling for a two-month period of talks with the Rajoy government.

However, the jailing of the leaders of ANC and Òmnium, the two biggest grassroots secessionist organisations, appears to have further increased the mutual animosity between Madrid and Barcelona and swept away any small possibility of negotiations in the near future. The two groups have scheduled a massive demonstration in Barcelona on Saturday.

If Mr Puigdemont fails to obey the Spanish government’s entreaties by Thursday, Mr Rajoy is expected to start implementing a clause in the constitution allowing him to suspend Catalan autonomous powers. He might subsequently call elections in the region.