A Spanish judge jailed nine former members of Catalonia’s separatist government and was deliberating a possible international arrest warrant for the region’s ousted president, who remained in Belgium while the others appeared in a Madrid court for questioning about their efforts to break away from Spain. Former President Carles Puigdemont and his 13-member Cabinet are being investigated for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement stemming from their pursuit of Catalan independence. The Spanish government removed them from office on October 27 and they were summoned to appear in Spain’s National Court yesterday.
After the nine Catalan Cabinet members who showed up were questioned, a judge sent eight of them to jail without bail. One was ordered held in lieu of 50,000 euros (USD 58,300) in bail. The seven men and two women were taken from the court in police vans hours later and assigned to prisons in the Madrid area. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Catalan towns to condemn the pre-charge detentions, which fellow separatist politicians and elected officials criticized as an attack on ideas. “We won’t give up, we won’t fail, we will fight till the end,” Marta Rovira, an increasingly prominent politician in Catalonia’s republican-left ERC party, said. “We have all the right in the world to live in a country with more justice, dignity and freedom,” she told reporters as tear welled in her eyes.
The Spanish government said it does not comment on judges’ decisions in deference to the separation of powers. Investigative magistrate Carmen Lamela ordered the officials into custody at the request of prosecutors, who also asked yesterday for an international warrant seeking Puigdemont’s arrest. Under Spain’s legal system, investigating judges can have suspects detained while a comprehensive probe, sometimes taking months, determines if they should be charged. Puigdemont surfaced in Belgium on Tuesday with some of his ex-ministers, saying they were seeking “freedom and safety” there. He and four of the officials remained in Brussels yesterday.
Asked whether Puigdemont would turn himself in if the arrest warrant is granted, his lawyer in Belgium, Paul Bekaert, told The Associated Press: “Certainly. Or the police will come get him.” Bekaert said Puigdemont intends to cooperate with Belgian police. Also yesterday, six Catalan lawmakers appeared for a parallel session in the Spanish Supreme Court. They were given a week to prepare their defenses and instructed to return for questioning on November 9. In all, Spanish prosecutors are investigating 20 regional politicians for rebellion and other crimes that would be punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
In a written ruling, the National Court judge said the eight jailed without bail had planned and executed a roadmap since 2015 to create an independent Catalan republic. The ruling said the activities of those under investigation were “meditated and perfectly prepared and organized, repeatedly disobeying systematically over two years Constitutional Court resolutions in favor of the independence.” The judge said the eight were being jailed without the possibility of bail because of the risk of them fleeing prosecution or hiding or destroying evidence.
Lawyers for the jailed officials said they planned to appeal Lamela’s order. Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, who represents Puigdemont and four more of the ousted Cabinet members, said the judge’s decision to send them to jail “lacked justification” and was “disproportionate.” The Catalan officials’ supporters and party aides in Madrid were seen crying outside the courthouse when the judge’s decision was announced.