Catalan leaders exit prison as election campaign begins

Court keeps 14 February date and rejects delay despite Covid fears

VilaWeb / Catalan News Agency
29.01.2021 - 14:39
Actualització: 29.01.2021 - 15:39

Eight of the Catalan political prisoners condemned for their role in the 2017 independence referendum have left prison on Friday after recovering the penitentiary right allowing for weekday and weekend leaves that had been struck down by Spain’s Supreme Court two months ago. Yet, the public prosecutor could position itself against allowing them to have these permits that were greenlighted by the Catalan government, which is in charge of prisons, leading magistrates to strip them of them once again. But for now, the politicians and activists behind bars will have to spend Monday to Thursday night in prison.

As the 14 February election campaign officially kicked off on Thursday night, the political prisoners will be able to participate in political rallies alongside their pro-independence Esquerra Republicana and Junts per Catalunya party colleagues. The election date was finally set clear on Friday. After weeks of uncertainty, when political parties agreed to delay the vote over coronavirus fears, the Catalan High Court has stood by a provisional ruling rejecting its postponement, thus confirming the 14 February vote.

Former minister Dolors Bassa was the first politician to leave her jail on Friday at 8:45 am. The seven male inmates—Oriol Junqueras, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Quim Forn, Jordi Sànchez, and Jordi Cuixart—left Lledoners prison around 10:30 am. Carme Forcadell, the parliament speaker at the time of the 2017 referendum, will not be able to leave prison due to a coronavirus outbreak at Barcelona’s Wad Ras correctional center.

“Fill the ballots”

Òmnium Cultural, the civic organisation of which Jordi Cuixart is president, held an event in the center of Barcelona without any members of the public invited due to the pandemic.  At the event, speakers defended fundamental rights and culture. During Cuixart’s speech, he urged voters to “fill the ballots” with pro-independence votes, and criticized the “operation” of the Spanish state to hold the vote on February 14 despite Covid-19 concerns.

Various people introduced themselves at the event and outlined the various crimes they are accused of and face upcoming trials for. The civic group say that there are around 3,000 of these “repressed” people across Catalonia. Most of the invitees then held up banners in defence of an amnesty for the jailed independence leaders.

“This is not freedom”

“I am happy, but this is not freedom,” were Bassa’s first words to the press that awaited her departure outside the prison walls. She added that it is all “down to the Socialist government’s public prosecutor” to decide whether these privileges can be kept.

Bassa also referred to the “imposed” election campaign after a court provisionally denied postponing the vote to avoid having it coincide with the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The former labor minister also encouraged the public to vote for pro-independence parties.

Lledoners prisoners urge electorate to vote

A crowd of journalists also stood outside Lledoners prison to witness the seven jailed pro-independence inmates leaving on Friday morning. And like Bassa, many of them called on Catalans to vote in two weeks’ time. “We need to head to the polls on February 14,” said Jordi Sànchez, “because we must express the will of the majority in the country to be free.” “Yesterday marked 1,200 days since I first entered prison, so don’t tell me that we don’t deserve to leave permits while completing our sentences,” he added, arguing that their prison conditions should not be questioned.

Former vice president Oriol Junqueras, in turn, referred to the Covid-19 crisis. “We have a country to lift up, a pandemic to overcome, and an economy to recover,” the ERC politician said, also expressing his support for his “colleagues that suffer repression and are in exile.”

Meanwhile, Josep Rull and Raül Romeva seemed certain the public prosecutor will soon appeal their low-category status, as did Jordi Turull: “We all know how they act”.

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