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Supreme Court revokes prison privileges of jailed pro-independence leaders

Imprisoned Catalan politicians and activists denied daytime and weekend leaves

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04 December 2020 10:13 AM

by

ACN | Barcelona

Spain's Supreme Court has revoked the 'low category' awarded by prison authorities to nine Catalan pro-independence leaders, thus canceling their penitentiary privileges that allowed them daytime and weekend leaves.

Condemned for the crime of sedition and sentenced to serve between 9 and 13 years in prison for their role in the 2017 push to separate from Spain, the nine political leaders and activists were granted the most lenient penitentiary category last summer.

Until now, two of the inmates, former parliament speaker Carme Forcadell and former work minister Dolors Bassa, had been enjoying the 'low category' status, the most beneficial one, including being able to spend the entire weekends at home and to work or volunteer outside prison some hours on weekdays.

They were granted this 'semi-freedom' status in July by the Catalan government, the administration in charge of penitentiary centers in Catalonia.

The other seven leaders – Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Cuixart, Joaquim Forn and Raül Romeva – were also granted this privilege, but this barely lasted two weeks.

In late July, Spain's public prosecutor appealed the decision, arguing it was creating "a sense of impunity."

While the courts were deliberating on the matter – with the ultimate decision made by the Supreme Court on Friday –, a Catalan penitentiary court decided to automatically suspend the 'low category' status for the seven male imprisoned officials, while another one decided to keep the privileges for the two female ones, Forcadell and Bassa.

Therefore, for over four months, the two women have been able to spend all day outside the jail on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, only having to sleep behind bars the rest of the days.

Indeed, the Supreme Court also made clear that the pro-independence officials no longer hold the 'low category' status, nor will they have the possibility to use article 100.2 of Spain's penitentiary court, granting regular daytime leaves to work or volunteer as long as it helps with their reintegration even if they are in the 'medium category' status.

Magistrates' arguments

The magistrates argued that they must remain in the 'medium category' – the ordinary one – because it is "premature" that they be granted maximum privileges. They also revoked the application of 100.2 on the grounds that their activities outside the prisons "are lacking connection with a process of reintegration."

The Supreme Court judges make clear in their decision that Catalan government managed prison authorities are not "a last instance that enables public servants to fix their disagreements with the outcome of a procedure."

"The sentence cannot be permanently reinterpreted," they added.

According to the magistrates, in Spain "no one serves a sentence in a penitentiary institution for their political ideas."

"None of the accused in this procedure have been condemned for pursuing independence for Catalonia."

Protests

Pro-independence civic organisation Catalan National Assembly gathered protesters in eleven locations to hold demonstrations to denounce the move by the Supreme Court. 

In-car slow marches drove to two prisons, with dozens of cars beeping to voice their anger at the decision outside the Wad-Ras penitentiary centre in Barcelona, where former parliament speaker Carme Forcadell is serving her sentence. 

As well as demonstrators in their vehicles, around 150 also showed up on foot to join in the protest.

What next

All nine are back to 'medium category' status, which only allows them to request temporary leaves for up to 36 days a year when they have complied with a quarter of the sentence – some already have, while the rest will reach this point in January and February 2021.

Meanwhile, the Catalan prison authorities have to assess their prison category again shortly. They did this last July and this decision must be reviewed every half a year – so in the coming weeks, the legal back and forth between the Catalan government, the prosecutor, several courts and ultimately the Supreme Court could be repeated.

In parallel, a new element could change the fate of the nine politicians and activists as the Spanish government committed to review the sedition crime in the criminal code in the near future, which could see them automatically released.

The Socialist-led executive is also considering the several petitions of pardon of various personalities and entities for them.

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