High court disqualifies foreign minister for role in 2017 independence push as Agramunt mayor

Bernat Solé faces one year barred from office and a €16,800 fine but decision can be appealed

Foreign minister Bernat Solé leaving the high court on December 14, 2020 (by Marta Sierra)
Foreign minister Bernat Solé leaving the high court on December 14, 2020 (by Marta Sierra) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

January 21, 2021 10:53 AM

The Catalan High Court has sentenced foreign minister Bernat Solé to one year of disqualification and a €16,800 fine for his role in the 2017 independence push as mayor of Agramunt, a town in western Catalonia, on Thursday.

However, the decision is not final and can be appealed to the Supreme Court. 

The court found that Solé had personal and direct knowledge of the constitutional court’s decisions against the laws passed by parliament in 2017 about the referendum, and the consequences for going against these.

As well as this, they accused Solé of providing a public building on September 25, 2017 to host an event encouraging the referendum.

Solé defended his role as mayor, claiming that his disqualification is also "a sentence for hundreds of mayors who stood beside the people" during the referendum push. "The will of the people can't be disobeyed," he said.

Judges claim he "had an active and decisive role in the development" of the plebiscite on October 1, 2017, taking part in activities such as "hiding ballot boxes in safe places" and "moving forward the closing of the polls", which Solé had previously denied at his trial.

Cross-examination in court

During the session on December 14, 2020, Solé stated that he did not take part in the organization of the vote in Agramunt. He did admit to having taken part in a debate on the referendum in his village, but as a political representative and not as mayor. 

He also said that he did not grant access to the school for the vote, but he did try to avoid damages to the educational center by Spain's Guardia Civil police trying to persuade the vote organizers to not hide the ballot boxes inside the building. 

Support for Solé

Many Catalan pro-referendum politicians have come out on social media in support for Solé.

"The Spanish justice system cannot decide who is and is not president or who is or is not a minister. All of my support," Laura Borràs, the presidential candidate for JxCat wrote on Twitter.

These calls were joined by many others including parliament speaker Roger Torrent who branded the sentence "a new act of revenge against the independence push."

"All of my support in front of this unjust sentence, which has done nothing more than prove that repression remains intact. More than three years have passed since the referendum and the Spanish state continues to repress without sign of slowing down," added former Catalan president Carles Puidgemont, the leader of the 2017 independence push. 

A long history of Catalan prosecution

Should the Supreme Court uphold the disobedience verdict, Solé would become the second member of the current Catalan cabinet to be disqualified, after president Quim Torra was removed from office last fall.

Foreign minister Solé is only the latest in a long list of Catalan officials and activists facing prosecution for their role in the 2017 push to hold a referendum and separate from Spain.

In the most notable of all cases, six former members of the Catalan government two activists and the former parliament speaker were sentenced for sedition to serve between 9 and 13 years in prison, whom fellow pro-independence supporters see as political prisoners.