Catalonia’s pro-independence political prisoners have recovered the penitentiary right which allows them weekday and weekend leaves, thus allowing them to take part in the campaign ahead of the 14 February election. Sentenced for their role in the 2017 referendum, eight politicians and activists have been granted the low category ‘semi-freedom’ status by the Catalan government.

This comes nearly two months after Spain’s Supreme Court stripped them of such status, raising the possibility of having their rights revoked again. A ninth pro-independence leader, former parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, is expected to receive the same penitentiary right in the coming days. She is currently in quarantine in the Wad-Ras prison following a coronavirus outbreak.

The eight leaders are expected to leave prison on Friday morning, coinciding with the first day of campaigning and insuring that Catalonia’s two ruling pro-independence parties can count on some of their most prominent members for the election period—or at least part of it, since a legal challenge from Spain’s public prosecutor is likely.

Charismatic and respected figures

While the pro-independence leaders have been barred from holding public office and can’t run in the parliamentary elections, they remain some of the most charismatic and respected figures in their parties. This is the case the leader of Esquerra Republicana and former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras. Junts per Catalunya, the pro-independence party led by exiled president Carles Puigdemont, will also have some of its most prominent members attend election rallies, like the activist turned politician Jordi Sànchez.

The ‘semi-freedom’ status is the most lenient category for inmates, requiring them to sleep in jail from Monday to Thursday, but allowing them to leave the penitentiary center to go to work during the day and spend weekends at home. With prison sentences ranging from 9 to 13 years, the majority of jailed Catalan political prisoners have already spent at least three years behind bars, and all will have completed a quarter of their sentences within the next two weeks.

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