No political prisoners in Spain, says Madrid
Spanish government dismisses allegations of pro-independence leaders imprisoned for their political ideas as false
The Spanish government backs the National Court’s decision on Monday to hold without bail Catalan secessionist leaders accused of sedition. Underlining the independence of the judiciary, spokespersons for both the executive and Spain’s ruling People’s Party (PP) dismiss allegations of pro-independence leaders being imprisoned for their political ideas as false.
“Nobody in Spain is in prison for thinking one thing or another, but because a judge says they have broken the law,” Spanish Home Affairs minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, said on Tuesday. “The separation of powers is a basic pillar of democracy.”
The imprisonment of pro-independence leaders sparked widespread criticism from politicians across the spectrum, except for PP and its main unionist partner Ciutadans (Cs). Catalan president Carles Puigdemont commented on it via Twitter: “Spain jails Catalonia's civil society leaders for organizing peaceful demonstrations. Sadly, we have political prisoners again.”
"Political prisoners? Of course not," said Spanish Justice minister, Rafael Maria Català. "There might be imprisoned politicians, but not political prisoners because yesterday’s decision is based on the hypothetical crime of not allowing the police to do their job."
“Nobody in Spain is in prison for thinking one thing or another, but because a judge says they have broken the law”
Juan Ignacio Zoido · Spanish Home Affairs minister
The presidents of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Jordi Sánchez, and Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, are the first Catalan leaders to be jailed since the October 1 referendum on independence. ANC and Òmnium are the two main grassroots organizations advocating for secession in Catalonia.
Demonstrations “not peaceful”
Prosecutors allege that Sánchez and Cuixart played a key role in the September 20 and 21 demonstrations against a major police operation to block preparations for the vote. Spanish police raided several Catalan government buildings and arrested 14 high-ranking officials. A police car parked in front of the Catalan Ministry of Economy was damaged.
“These can’t be labelled as peaceful and civic demonstrations,” the Spanish government delegate in Catalonia, Enric Millo, said today in an interview with Catalan Public Radio. “It is not normal that [police and court workers] can’t do their job because some people impede it.”
“Judicial power is independent”
Millo also stressed the independence of the Spanish judiciary, and insisted that the imprisonment of secessionist leaders was not influenced by the executive in Madrid. “Governments have the obligation to look for political solutions to our problems of understanding and judicial power is independent,” he said.
Ban on pro-independence platforms
With the arrest of the pro-independence leaders, the Spanish justice has taken a hard stance against secessionists in Catalonia. Some voices within Spain’s ruling People’s Party, however, are willing to go even harder.
PP's leader in Catalonia, Xavier García Albiol, calls for banning political programs which advocate disobedience of Spanish law. He says a party should not be allowed to run in the elections advocating for an independence declaration.
"I don’t believe in illegalizing political parties," Albiol said at a news conference on Monday. "What I do believe is that political parties cannot present proposals which clearly mean destroying Spain."
"There are democratic countries which don’t allow political parties to go against the State’s configuration, against the Nation’s existence," said Pablo Casado, People's Party communications vice secretary. "What I say is that we could look into that."
Basc parties illegalized
In the early 2000s, Basc parties were illegalized for their links with the terrorist organization ETA. Its most prominent leader, Arnaldo Otegi, was freed in 2016 after spending six and a half years in prison.
Yet, it is to be seen whether the current Spanish law could be used to ban parties that reject the use of violence to achieve their political means.