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Spain Blocks Jailed Catalan Leader From Joining European Parliament

Category: Europe,World

MADRID — The Spanish Supreme Court on Friday blocked a leader of the Catalan independence movement from leaving jail to take his seat in the European Parliament.

The separatist leader, Oriol Junqueras, is one of 12 people charged with rebellion and other crimes over Catalonia’s failed attempt to secede from Spain in 2017. The Supreme Court closed that trial on Wednesday, after listening to more than 400 witnesses over four months; a verdict is not expected until the fall.

Mr. Junqueras, who was the deputy leader of Catalonia, has been in prison since late 2017, but has maintained significant influence over Catalan politics. He still leads the Esquerra Republicana party, which recently became the largest Catalan party within the Spanish Parliament, and was elected to both the Spanish Parliament and the European Parliament.

In order for him to officially become a member of European Parliament, Mr. Junqueras has to register with the electoral authorities in Madrid. The court said on Friday that allowing him to collect his credentials and travel to Brussels would represent “an irreversible risk” to the completion of his trial and would involve a “loss of jurisdictional control.”

The court also said that Brussels had become the base of the Catalan “government in exile,” as defined by Carles Puigdemont, the deposed president of Catalonia, who fled to Belgium in 2017 to avoid prosecution in Spain, and has continued to push from there for a separate Catalan republic.

Mr. Puigdemont was himself elected last month to the European Parliament, but he will struggle to take his seat without first collecting his credentials from Madrid, where an arrest warrant awaits him.

Mr. Junqueras, who faces a 25-year prison sentence, was allowed to leave prison last month to register as a member of the Spanish Parliament. But the Supreme Court said the situations were different.

As a member of the European Parliament, Mr. Junqueras could have immunity from criminal prosecution at home, possibly requiring the Spanish Supreme Court to seek permission from the European Parliament before ruling on his case.

The Supreme Court made clear on Friday that Mr. Junqueras could join the European Parliament once it issued a verdict in his case. There is no formal deadline, but a ruling is expected before November.

The secessionist conflict has split Catalan society down the middle and weighed on national politics. Separatist politicians have governed Spain’s northeastern region since 2015, winning the most seats in different Catalan elections, but without ever gaining an absolute majority of the votes.

The Spanish government insists that Catalonia is an issue of national sovereignty that requires no external mediation. But the territorial conflict has coincided with tensions elsewhere in the European Union, with nationalist parties making headway in several member states and Britain negotiating its departure from the bloc.

The case has also spilled over the border because the jailed separatist politicians have sought support from international institutions. Last month, the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, France, unanimously rejected the Catalan separatists’ arguments that Spain had violated their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

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