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Belgian politicians criticize imprisonment of Catalan leaders

Deputy PM Jan Jambon says the Spanish government has gone “too far” after putting 8 ministers in jail and ordering the arrest of Puigdemont

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06 November 2017 02:24 PM

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ACN | Brussels

Belgian politicians criticized the imprisonment of Catalan pro-independence leaders after deposed president Carles Puigdemont and his ministers put their country in the eye of the storm when they landed in Brussels last week, alleging they did not trust the Spanish justice to offer them a fair trial.

The deputy prime minister, Jan Jambon, said the Spanish government has gone “too far,” in reference to the imprisonment of the eight ministers who stayed in Catalonia after being suspended from office. In an interview with Belgian broadcaster VTM, Jambon accused Madrid of wanting to “substitute a democratically elected government, the members of which are in prison” and added “What did they do wrong? Simply enforcing their electoral mandate.”

Spain asked for the extradition of Puigdemont and his ministers last week. On Sunday morning, the Catalans went of their own accord to a police station in Brussels. A Belgian judge decided to conditionally release them late Sunday night while a final decision is made on whether to extradite them or not.

  • "Puigdemont abused his position but Rajoy behaved like an authoritarian francoist"

    Elio di Rupo · Former Belgian prime minister

“If the same had happened in Poland or Hungary, I think the reactions would have been different,” Jambon said, referring to the EU’s role in dealing with the political crisis. He added that the European Convention of Human Rights and international law should be taken into account in addition to Spanish law.

The vice president of the EPP group and leader of Spain’s ruling People’s Party in the European Parliament, Esteban González Pons, criticized Jambon and said his words were “irresponsible and dangerous”. González Pons warned that Jambon was endangering the “necessary cooperation among EU member states.”

Jambon is a member of the Flemish N-VA, a nationalist party from Belgium’s Dutch-speaking North which has shown some sympathies with independence aspirations in Catalonia. Since 2014, the party rules in coalition with other Flemish parties and the Reformist Movement of Primer Minister George Michel.

Unlike most EU leaders, Michel criticized the Spanish government for using force against peaceful voters to stop the October 1 referendum on independence. Diplomatic tensions between the governments in Brussels and Madrid have continued to grow over the past few weeks.

"Authoritarian francoist"

More recently, Michel has kept a low profile to avoid further diplomatic clashes with Spain. However, his predecessor spoke up this past weekend against the judicialization of the political crisis in Spain. Former prime minister Elio di Rupo accused Spanish president Mariano Rajoy of behaving like an “authoritarian francoist,” in reference to dictator Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain until the mid-1970s.  

Di Rupo said he is “against Puigdemont’s policies” and accused him of “abusing his position” but stressed that the pro-independence movement should be fought “as democrats”. Di Rupo, a member of the Belgium Socialists, supported his Spanish counterparts and called for a federal reform as the best way out of the conflict.

Only interlocutor: Spain

The Belgian Foreign Affairs minister Didier Reynders dismissed comments from fellow politicians “who have nothing to say” and stressed that the Belgian executive's only interlocutor is “the Spanish government.” In an interview with RTL, Reynders said that the political crisis in Catalonia “is a matter that affects Spain”.

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  • N-VA leader Jan Jambon visited Catalonia in 2011 (by ACN)

  • N-VA leader Jan Jambon visited Catalonia in 2011 (by ACN)