Hearing to decide on Catalan pro-independence leaders' incarceration underway
Former ANC president Jordi Sànchez tells judge he does not back unilateral independence
The hearing to three jailed pro-independence leaders started on Thursday morning at the Spanish Supreme Court. Catalan pro-independence grass-root leader Jordi Sànchez was the first one to testify. Another civil society dignitary Jordi Cuixart, and the Catalan home affairs minister Joaquim Forn have also been summoned to appear before the Spanish Supreme Court, following a request they submitted to appeal for their release.
In a two-hour long hearing, Sànchez told the judge that he does not back unilateral independence, say judicial sources, and that he would resign as MP if separation from Spain was attempted unilaterally. He also recognized that the October 1 referendum on independence was illegal according to the Spanish law, and that pro-independence parties and grassroots organizations shared a common roadmap to achieve their goals.
Cuixart told the judge that the only valid independence referendum in Catalonia would be one called by the Spanish government, and restated his "profoundly peaceful convictions." He also ruled out joining politics and said that unilateral plans are no means to achieve independence.
Sànchez, Cuixart and Forn are expected to clearly state before the Supreme Court judge that they only support a bilateral way to achieve independence, in agreement with Spain and abiding by the Spanish Constitution.
Sànchez and Cuixart were sent to pre-trial prison on October 16, after being charged with "sedition" for having promoted a rally outside the Catalan economy department while being raided by Spanish police on September 20. While Sànchez acknowledged that some acts of vandalism occurred, he rejected labeling them as violent.
Forn was jailed on November 2, along with six more Catalan deposed ministers, accused of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, some days after the Catalan Parliament declared independence. Six of the members of the Catalan government, all of them deposed by the Spanish government, were released on bail on December 4, while Forn and deposed vice president Oriol Junqueras are still in pre-trial detention.
Sànchez and Cuixart presented videos of the September 20 protests in their defense. In the footage, the two civil society leaders can be seen asking demonstrators to stay calm, to isolate those who display violent behaviour, as well as eventually asking people to leave the place.
“I hope that next week we’ll see Jordi Sánchez and Joaquim Forn take their seat in the Catalan Parliament, and Jordi Cuixart will be able to see it from the guests’ tribune”
Marta Pascal · PDeCAT leader
While Cuixart is still the president of Òmnium Cultural, one of the two main pro-independence grassroots organizations in Catalonia, Sànchez resigned as the of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) in order to join president Carles Puigdemont’s ticket in the December 21 election as number two. With only one week to go before the Parliament’s opening session, it is not yet clear whether Sànchez will be able to take his seat.
“I hope common sense will prevail and justice will be done, so they can be freed,” said Marta Pascal, the leader of PDeCAT, president Puigdemont’s party. On Thursday, Pascal traveled to Madrid to support imprisoned leaders along with other Catalan politicians and pro-independence supporters. “I hope that next week we’ll see Jordi Sánchez and Joaquim Forn take their seat in the Catalan Parliament, and Jordi Cuixart will be able to see it from the guests’ tribune.”
However, not everybody was as confident as Pascal. "I’m pessimistic, and I hope I’m wrong," said Joan Tardà, an MP for pro-independence ERC party at the Spanish Parliament. "Recently, Oriol Junqueras appeared in court and we saw how now, apart from being a political prisoner, he is also a political hostage. So why would they do something different now?"
Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena summoned former Catalan ministers Jordi Jané, Jordi Baiget, Neus Munté and Boi Ruiz as witnesses. All of them resigned from their posts before the political crisis between governments in Barcelona and Madrid reached a tipping point in recent months, when the Catalan government went ahead with a referendum on independence despite Spain’s opposition.
Llarena also summoned Diego Pérez de los Cobos, a Guardia Civil colonel, designated by the Spanish government to coordinate all law enforcement agencies on October 1. Former Catalan police director, Albert Batlle, has been summoned as well.