What next for jailed independence leaders?

With new Spanish government committed to tackling Catalan conflict, focus shifts to fate of imprisoned politicians and activists

A van carrying pro-independence leaders arrives at the Lledoners prison in central Catalonia (by ACN)
A van carrying pro-independence leaders arrives at the Lledoners prison in central Catalonia (by ACN) / ACN

Neil Stokes | Barcelona

January 9, 2020 11:51 AM

Among the foremost issues on the agenda concerning the Catalan conflict are the independence leaders jailed for sedition and who are serving terms of up to 13 years for their part in the push for independence in Catalonia in 2017. 

Since the sentencing in October, and with the Supreme Court due to rule on the immunity as an MEP-elect of jailed ERC head Oriol Junqueras after it was confirmed by the European Court of Justice, pressure has gathered to find an acceptable way of getting the leaders out of prison.

So far, Sanchez's Socialists have made no mention of the issue of the imprisoned leaders, and it did not come up when the deal to gain ERC's abstention was announced. However, Junqueras' party has consistently called for an amnesty for the leaders. 

Catalan government "will insist" on amnesty

On Wednesday, the head of the unionist Catalan People's Party, Alejandro Fernández, rejected comments by ERC member and Catalan vice president, Pere Aragonès, that the government "will insist" on an amnesty for the jailed leaders.

According to Fernández, an amnesty is a suggestion that "is going nowhere" and he claimed that ERC "knows it." He also ruled out the possibility of a pardon should any of the leaders ask for it, warning that a pardon would come with "a series of conditions."

However, En Comú Podem, the party of Barcelona mayor Ada Colau and the Catalan affiliate of the Podemos party now in coalition with Sanchez's Socialists, has called for a pardon, even though the leaders reject that, as it would imply acknowledging guilt. 

Nevertheless, over the weekend, the leader of En Comú Podem, Jaume Asens, referred to the issue of the jailed leaders, saying that "when a Spanish government is formed, the executive will have to tackle the issue of the pardon."

Meanwhile, on Thursday, one of Catalonia's largest trade unions, the UGT, said it will ask for a pardon for the jailed former Catalan employment minister, Dolors Bassa, describing its intention as a "moral duty" towards someone who is "committed" to the union.

First leaders jailed to apply for privileges

While the debate on an amnesty or pardon for the jailed leaders will go on, the first of them will soon be able to apply for special privileges, such as temporary release from prison, according to the conditions of the regime under which they will serve their sentences. 

The Catalan authorities confirmed on Thursday evening the leaders - who are serving their sentences in jails in Catalonia - as "segon grau" prisoners, a medium-level prison regime that allows them to apply for certain privileges after serving a quarter of their sentences.

Such is the case of activist leaders, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, who were sentenced to nine years in prison, but who spent over two years in preventive detention after becoming the first of the leaders to be arrested in October 2017.

In fact, Sànchez's lawer, Jordi Pina, has confirmed that his client will apply for privileges next week, once the Catalan authorities have confirmed the prison regimes, and he added that Cuixart also has the intention of doing the same.

Among the privileges open to medium-level prisoners is the possibility of 36 days release every year, or the chance to leave prison to do a job, although in this case it would have to be with a private organization, as the leaders are barred from holding public positions.