Catalan’s deposed vice-president to contest election from prison

The deposed Catalan vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, looks poised to contest this month’s regional election from a prison cell after a judge at Spain’s supreme court denied him bail, saying it remained to be seen whether his pledge to abide by Spanish law was “truthful and real”.

Junqueras is among more than a dozen Catalan leaders facing possible charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds over their roles in October’s illegal independence referendum and the subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.

While Judge Pablo Llarena granted bail of €100,000 (£88,000) to six former Catalan cabinet members, he ruled that Junqueras should remain in custody along with the region’s former interior minister, Joaquim Forn, and the leaders of two pro-independence civil society groups.

Although the ousted vice-president and his former colleagues had agreed to renounce their unilateral drive for independence in the hope of obtaining bail, Llarena said there was a risk that Junqueras and Forn could commit the same crimes if released.

The decision came as a court in Belgium said it would decide on 14 December whether to grant a European arrest warrant against the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four of his ministers, who fled Spain at the end of October, claiming they would not be granted a fair trial.

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Paul Bekaert, said there were no grounds for extradition as the Spanish offences were not punishable in Belgium. “We also highlighted the danger for the impediment of their human rights in Spain,” Bekaert said on Monday.

Catalonia has been under the control of the Spanish government since 27 October, when the county’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, attempted to halt the independence drive by sacking the regional government and announcing snap elections to be held on 21 December.

The elections, which are intended to put an end to Spain’s worst political crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago, are likely to be used as a de facto vote on regional independence. Campaigning begins on Tuesday and surveys suggest the results will be very close.

A government-commissioned poll publshed on Monday showed that pro-independence parties could lose their slim majority in the Catalan parliament, raising the prospect of another round of coalition negotiations.

The survey by the Sociological Research Centre (CIS), said Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party could win 25-26 seats, Junqueras’s Catalan Republican Left party (ERC) 32, and the far-left anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) nine. Together, they would hold 67 seats – one short of a majority – and five short of the total seats they held as a coalition before parliament was dissolved.

According to the poll, the biggest beneficiaries would be the centre-right Citizens party, which is set to take 31-32 seats. The party, led by Inés Arrimadas, has been fiercely opposed to independence and has vowed to restore social cohesion and bring back the business that have fled the region amid the political and economic uncertainty.

The regional arm of Rajoy’s People’s party (PP) is forecast to win seven seats while the Catalan Socialist party would take 21. CatComu-Podem, the Catalan wing of the anti-austerity Podemos party, could win nine seats, making it a possible kingmaker in any coalition deal.

Junqueras, however, has already sought to raise doubts over the Madrid-imposed elections. “It is hard to believe that Spain’s conservative People’s party government will actually respect the result of these elections,” he wrote in an editorial for Politico on Sunday. “Therefore, it is vital that the European Union oversee the results to ensure they are truly respected, and to erase any doubts about the outcome.”

Such help is unlikely to be forthcoming. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, has repeatedly ruled out any intervention, saying the issue is a domestic one for the Spanish government.

“We do not do it because if we do … it will create a lot more chaos in the EU,” he said in October. “We cannot do anything. We cannot get involved in that.”

Puigdemont recently hit back, calling the EU a “club of decadent, obsolete countries” and suggesting that Catalonia should vote on whether it wished to remain in the union.

Monday’s supreme court ruling was met with anger from the two grassroots groups whose leaders have been in custody since mid-October. Jordi Sánchez, the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, the president of Òmnium Cultural, are being investigated for alleged sedition in the run-up to the referendum.

Sánchez and Cuixart are accused of using huge demonstrations to try to stop Spanish police officers following a judge’s orders to halt the independence referendum that had already been suspended by the country’s constitutional court.

Òmnium Cultura described Cuixart’s continuing detention as “arbitrary and unjust” and said he should have been granted bail, adding: “Such decisions are an attempt to curb freedom of expression and the exercise of fundamental civil rights, such as the freedom to protest.”

The ANC, meanwhile, called on people to protest outside town halls on Monday evening, tweeting: “Take to the streets and denounce injustice! We will not stop until EVERYONE is back home!”

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