Spain’s supreme court has refused to grant bail to the ousted Catalan vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, who has been in prison for more than two months over his role in the region’s unilateral push for independence.
On Friday afternoon, three judges ruled Junqueras would remain in custody on the grounds that he could seek to carry on with the secessionist struggle if released.
In a written ruling, they also said there were indications to suggest he had committed the offences on suspicion of which he was being held: sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.
Junqueras told the court on Thursday he would obey the law if released, but the judges said there was a risk he would reoffend, because “there is no sign that the defendant has any intention of abandoning the route he has followed until now”. They also flatly rejected claims that Junqueras, who has been in prison since 2 November, was a “political prisoner”.
The ruling means Junqueras is likely to miss the inaugural session of the new Catalan parliament on 17 January. His lawyer, Andreu Van den Eynde, said his client has asked the court to free him so that he could “represent the people who voted for him”, rejoin his family and work to find a solution to the current political crisis.
The decision was swiftly condemned by the deposed Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium shortly after October’s unilateral independence declaration.
Puigdemont said last month’s snap election, which was called by the Madrid government after it assumed control of Catalonia and sacked the regional government, had shown that Catalans wanted a pro-independence government.
Although the unionist, centre-right Citizens won the most seats, pro-independence parties, including the ERC and Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, held on to their majority.
“There is a conflict to be resolved between Catalonia and Spain,” Puigdemont tweeted on Friday afternoon. “We have always opted for the peaceful path and for dialogue.”
He added that Junqueras and the three other Catalan independence leaders still in jail were “no longer political prisoners; they are hostages”.
It is unclear what will happen when the regional parliament meets in less than two weeks’ time. Puigdemont hopes to be sworn in as president for another term, but to do so he will have to return to Spain, where he faces immediate arrest.
Junqueras’s supporters had hoped he could become president if Puigdemont remained in Brussels, but the suggestion has been shot down by the latter’s party.
“There’s only one plan: restoring President Puigdemont and the legitimate government,” Together for Catalonia said on Thursday, adding that any other plan would act as an endorsement of the “coup d’état” perpetrated by the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.
Spain has been in the throes of the separatist crisis since 1 October, when Puigdemont’s government staged a unilateral independence referendum that was marred by violence as Spanish police officers sought to stop the vote.
Almost a month later, the regional parliament declared independence from Spain, prompting Rajoy to step in and use article 155 of the constitution to sack the Catalan government and call fresh elections.
Why elections are being held
On 27 October, less than an hour after secessionist Catalan MPs voted to declare independence, Spain’s senate gave the country’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, power to assume control of Catalonia. As well as sacking the regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and his pro-independence government, Rajoy called snap elections to be held on 21 December.
Although Puigdemont is in Belgium and his former vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, is in jail pending possible charges including rebellion and sedition, both they and their parties are going to contest the election. More than a dozen Catalan leaders face charges, but all are eligible to stand so long as they are not convicted and barred from public office. Among those also running are the anti-independence, centrist Ciutadans or Citizens party, the Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya, En Comú Podem-Catalunya en Comú coalition and Spain’s ruling conservative People’s party.
What it means for independence
Pro-independence parties used the polls two years ago as a de facto vote on splitting from Spain and Puigdemont’s coalition set about paving the way for the unilateral referendum. Pro-independence parties will be looking to use next week’s vote to maintain their momentum. Opposition parties will be looking to capitalise on the frustrations of the roughly 50% of Catalans opposed to independence.
How voting works
Members of the 135-seat Catalan parliament are elected using proportional representation. The seats are divided into four districts: at least 3% of the vote in each district is needed to win seats, and 68 seats are needed for a majority. The electoral system is weighted in favour of less populated rural areas.