Formerly exiled politician Serret sentenced to 1-year disqualification over 2017 referendum

Current foreign minister also fined €12,000 in decision that can be appealed

Meritxell Serret speaking to media outlets accompanied by Catalan president Pere Aragonès and other former ministers and the former Parliament speaker ahead of appearing before a judge on March 29, 2023
Meritxell Serret speaking to media outlets accompanied by Catalan president Pere Aragonès and other former ministers and the former Parliament speaker ahead of appearing before a judge on March 29, 2023 / Cristina Tomàs White
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

April 26, 2023 12:22 PM

April 26, 2023 06:31 PM

The formerly exiled politician Meritxell Serret has been sentenced to a year of disqualification from public office over her role in the 2017 referendum as the then-agriculture minister.

The Catalan high court also issued on Wednesday a €12,000 fine for the current foreign minister in a decision that she will appeal before the Supreme Court.

The sentencing is exactly as requested by the public prosecutor during her trial last month.

Shortly after being informed of the magistrates' decision, Serret expressed that "the referendum was not only not a crime, but a massive democratic expression that stemmed from the mandate of the majority in parliament."

"We will continue facing repression and telling those responsible for it that they wil not stop us," she also said. "The conflict is not over and we will not stop until we achieve a political and democratic solution."

For her, "the October 1 [2017 independence vote] was not a crime but a mass democratic expression that stemmed from the mandate of the majority in parliament."


First exiled minister given a sentence upon return

Serret was one of the Carles Puigdemont cabinet members who went on exile in late October 2017 after the failed independence push.

In March 2021, she became the first one to return to Catalonia, where she began to face the pending legal case she was facing, shortly before becoming the first 2017 leader to return to cabinet as foreign minister.

For the time being, Serret will continue in her position, but if the Supreme Court upholds the sentence ruled on Wednesday, she would be ousted from the foreign ministry.

Serret is the first pro-independence official who has received a sentence upon return.

Serret found guilty of disobedience

The official has been found guilty of disobedience for her role in the vote, which took place despite not being allowed by the Spanish government.

Some of the actions deemed illegal by the court include having approved the 2017 Catalan budget in a cabinet meeting in March that year and having signed the decree that officially called the contentious vote despite the Spanish Constitutional Court warnings against it.

During her trial last month, the foreign minister said that politicians in 2017 had to choose " between the parliament's mandate that urged us to organize the October 1, 2017 referendum and the injunctions we received from the Constitutional Court." 

The referendum "was not a crime, voting is not a crime," she said during a 10-minute address to the judge, adding that holding a referendum "does not violate anyone's rights." 

Referendum "not a crime"

Catalan president Pere Aragonès considered the disqualification as a "political" decision and ensured that Serret will continue working "with all her titles" as the foreign minister as the sentence can still be appealed. For him, voting on the October 1 referendum "cannot be considered a crime."

A message shared by pro-independence Esquerra Republicana party president Oriol Junqueras. He said that the sentencing of Serret is "profoundly unfair," as "October 1 was not a crime and the referendum was not a crime."

Something along the lines of, until October 2022, the junior coalition partner in the Catalan government. The party's secretary general, Jordi Turull, tweeted that the "Spanish justice is once again getting in the way of Catalan politics," he wrote. He also considered that someone who organized the October 1 independence referendum "does not deserve a minute of disqualification, prison, or exile," as the vote "was not a crime."

Former president Puigdemont, who is currently in Brussels after he left Spain with Serret, also considered the sentence "unfair" and gave "all his support" to the politician.

For the far-left pro-independence CUP party, the Spanish government "continues gagging elected people and those in favor of defending Catalonia's right to self-determination."

Meanwhile, the Socialists gave their "personal support to Serret, but the PSC will respect the court's decision," Lluïsa Moret, a member of the secretary committee of the Socialists, said.

However, the leader of Ciudadanos, Carlos Carrizosa, said that "no one is above the law,  not even Serret, suspended parliament speaker Laura Borràs, or former president Carles Puigdemont."

In a tweet, he wrote that "a sentenced minister for the charges of disobedience is not legitimized to urge others to follow the legislation."

Four 2017 independence exiles remain abroad

After her, formerly exiles Anna Gabriel, MP for CUP in 2017, and MEP Clara Ponsatí, education minister during the referendum, have also returned, but have not faced their trials yet. 

Thus, out of the seven officials who went abroad to avoid a trial in Spain over the referendum shortly after the independence push, there are only four remaining: former president Carles Puigdemont and former health minister Toni Comín, both now MEPs for Junts and living in Belgium, former culture minister Lluís Puig, also in Belgium, and former senior MP for Esquerra Marta Rovira, who sought refuge in Switzerland.

While Puigdemont, Comín and Puig would face charges potentially carrying prison, Rovira would only face disqualification and a fine due to the reformed criminal law in Spain, which has sparked speculation of a return in the near future.