Catalan speaker held pending $230K bail
MADRID: The Speaker of Catalonia’s sacked parliament was detained yesterday over her region’s drive for independence from Spain, pending payment of a 150,000 ($230,000) bail.
Carme Forcadell and five other deputies appeared in front of Spain’s highest tribunal on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds — which carry a maximum jail sentence of 30 years — for aiding the Catalan parliament’s secession bid.
They are suspected of having followed a “concerted strategy to declare independence”, before the official declaration on October 27, deepening Spain’s most serious political crisis in decades.
That declaration was annulled on Wednesday by Spain’s Constitutional Court. Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena ordered one Catalan MP to be freed, but the four others apart from Ms Forcadell must pay 25,000 within a week to avoid jail.
The Catalan crisis has prompted hundreds of businesses to reregister outside the wealthy northeastern region and caused disquiet in an EU still dealing with Britain’s shock decision to leave the bloc.
On Wednesday, a general strike called in Catalonia by a proindependence union triggered widespread travel chaos, cutting Spain’s main highway link to France and the rest of Europe and disrupting trains from Barcelona to Paris, Marseilles and Lyons. Authorities said about 150,000 people were affected.
Encouraged by their figurehead Carles Puigdemont, Catalan leaders voted to declare unilateral independence from Spain after going ahead with a banned referendum on October 1.
Separatists said 90 per cent of voters opted for independence, but critics counter that pro-unity supporters had boycotted a plebiscite that violated Spain’s constitution. In response, the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy suspended Catalan autonomy, dismissing its parliament and government and organising new regional elections for December 21.
A judge in Madrid last week ordered that eight members of Mr Puigdemont’s sacked government be detained for their role in the secession drive.
Ms Forcadell’s spokesman said as Speaker she did not “have the freedom to stop a vote” in the chamber on independence.
Mr Puigdemont and four former Catalan ministers are in selfimposed exile in Belgium and are due to appear before a judge next week after Madrid issued an EUwide warrant for their extradition. The 54-year-old deposed leader has ignored a summons to appear before a judge in Madrid, saying he wants guarantees he will receive a fair trial.
His presence in Brussels, the European capital, has raised fears of stoking tensions in Belgium after Flemish separatists in the ruling coalition there spoke out in support of Catalan independence.
Mr Puigdemont in a letter to the Catalan daily El Punt Avui called for “the liberation of political prisoners held by the Spanish state”. He tweeted that Ms Forcadell had “to sleep in jail for having allowed a democratic debate”.
However, Amnesty International said the jailed ministers could not be considered political prisoners as they are accused of acts that may constitute a criminal offence.
Carme Forcadell arrives at court in Madrid yesterday