Six jailed leaders set foot in parliament for first time since conviction
Junqueras, Rull, Turull, Bassa, Romeva and Forn got special permit to testify in investigative committee
Six of the nine leaders in jail for their roles in the 2017 independence referendum set a foot in parliament on Tuesday for the first time since they were convicted.
Two of them, Oriol Junqueras and Joaquim Forn, had never returned to the chamber since they were put in precautionary detention in November 2017.
Junqueras, Forn, and also Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Dolors Bassa and Raül Romeva were required to testify in a Catalan parliamentary committee on the enforcement of direct rule from Madrid.
The Catalan justice department allowed their attendance and all six were taken by the Catalan police to the parliament, where they were welcomed with applause and chants of "freedom" by party colleagues.
Amid huge media expectation and with strong police presence outside the chamber, they were welcomed by the Catalan president, Quim Torra, and the speaker, Roger Torrent.
They were taken to a room until 9am, when the committee began with former vice president Oriol Junqueras' testimony.
Junqueras: dialogue despite imprisonments
During his opening statement, Junqueras said that "organizing a referendum is not a crime because it isn't in the penal code."
"Backing independence and the republic is not a crime," he added. "They get confused between justice and vengeance. Vengeance doesn't intimidate us, it doesn't scare us, prison is another step towards freedom."
In the line of his party Esquerra's strategy, Junqueras said that despite his imprisonment, they won't "give up on dialogue."
"Our job is to talk to everyone, with a good tone, with a smile," said the former vice president.
Concerning the application of direct rule, he expressed that it harmed the country's social policies and economy, and it was "an excuse for the imprisonments."
Ciutadans walks away without waiting for an answer
In the round of responses, unionist Ciutandans' leader, Lorena Roldán, told him: "You are not martyrs, although you have come to play the victim, because you were the instigators [of the 2017 independence push]."
"You are not telling the truth about what happened in the darkest days of 2017."
Roldán, who asked Junqueras whether he "regrets" of his acts while in governments, walked away without waiting for Junqueras' response when she finished her statement. "Won't you wait for my response?," Esquerra's leader asked.
Meanwhile the Socialist Party decided they are not taking part in the committee because it's "a space of pro-independence propaganda" On the same page, the People's Party rejected joining it "to avoid taking part in a political rally before the upcoming election campaign."
Turull urges unity in pro-independence camp
The second to testify was Jordi Turull, who called on the pro-independence parties to keep their unity to "finalize" the path towards a Catalan Republic. This came only one day after the two ruling parties clashed in the chamber over President Torra's status as MP.
According to Turull, the suspension of self-rule in 2017 was "a bypass to take over democracy." He added that it was the culmination of a "lie" going back to the agreement to launch a democracy in Spain after dictator Franco's death.
He also rejected that the government in 2017, led by Carles Puigdemont, lied to citizens when they said Catalonia was ready for independence. For him, with four more months of preparations it would have been possible.
Romeva calls for amnesty
Next to address the committee was former foreign affairs minister Raül Romeva. He called for an amnesty for the jailed former leaders. “That’s the way major conflicts are resolved internationally," he said.
He spoke out in favour of dialogue and negotiation, but said that the political situation had to be taken seriously, insisting that the former leaders had been jailed in order to “silence and repress an ideology.”
Romeva added that he was “convinced” that sooner or later independence would come to pass and called the application of durect rule "the biggest mistake in democracy."
Abandon partisan strategies
Tuesday afternoon’s session began with Joaquim Forn calling on the various pro-independence parties to abandon "partisan strategies and political tactics" and instead build "unity of action."
The former interior minister added that the imposition of direct rule in 2017-18 was a “fierce attack” on the Catalan police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, and caused delays and cancellations to many projects in his former department.
Regarding the independence push, he lamented that mistakes had been made, "We haven't done everything right, because if we had, I would not be in prison," but insisted he would do it again, and do it “better.”
Josep Rull informed the committee in parliament that under direct rule he continued to approve and supervise every decision. "I didn't feel hampered by direct rule,” said the former territory and sustainability minister.
He went on to emphasize that his appearance as a prisoner in parliament was out of place in a normal democracy, and that he and his fellow jailed former ministers were in prison for peacefully defending “legitimate and democratic ideas."
The sixth and final former jailed leader to address the committee was Dolors Bassa. The former minister for work criticized those parties who backed stripping Catalonia of self-rule: "They risked the wellbeing of citizens for electoral profit. It is unforgivable."
She added that the application of article 155 of the constitution which imposed direct rule in Catalonia "only served to stop social and economic policies", and did not "achieve anything it intended", that was, to "escape" independence.