Catalan government authorises political prisoners to go back to work

Turull, Rull, Forn and Cuixart will be granted daytime leave Monday through Friday

The situation of level 3 prison inmates (and those who benefit from Article 100.2 of the prison rules and regulations) who have a job outside their penitentiary facility has taken an unexpected turn. Catalonia’s Justice Ministry has issued a statement announcing that they will be allowed daytime leave from this Wednesday so they may return to their jobs. This includes several of the Catalan political prisoners who remain in jail over their involvement in the failed 2017 independence bid. However, first they will need to prove that the company they work for is back in business [following the ease of the lockdown restrictions]. Former Catalan ministers Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn will likely benefit from this decision, as well as Òmnium Cultural president Jordi Cuixart.

According to ministry sources, the decision excludes inmates such as former minister Dolors Bassa —who enjoyed leave to look after her mother—, ex-parliament Speaker Carme Forcadell and Jordi Sànchez, the leader of Crida, who used to do voluntary work outside. ERC sources have indicated that their leader, Oriol Junqueras, and former Foreign Minister Raül Romeva will not benefit from this decision for now.

The measure concerns all level 3 and Article 100.2 inmates who had weekday leave to work off-site, including those who were sent home for the COVID-19 lockdown. Any inmate who wasn’t, like the Catalan independence leaders, will either be sleeping in new cells located in the admissions module when they come back from work in the evening, or will be transferred to an open facility. This is how the Catalan authorities intend to stop them from being in close contact with inmates who remain in prison, thus preventing any COVID-19 outbreaks among the prison population.

Even though the Catalan government opposes lifting the total lockdown and sending “non-essential” workers back to their job, it is now enabling level 3 and Article 100.2 inmates to travel to work every day. In the case of the Catalan political prisoners, their daytime leave for work purposes was suspended on March 16, even though the Spanish authorities did not enforce a total lockdown until March 28.

The president of grassroots group Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, will be able to go back to work because —as he explained in an interview with this newspaper— his company is regarded as a critical asset and remains open. In a press release, Òmnium VP Marcel Mauri insisted that invoking Article 100.2 “is a right, not a privilege” and emphasised that it is necessary for all political prisoners to be allowed home for the lockdown “as the UN, the Council of Europe and Front Line Defenders have urged”.

Besides Cuixart, Josep Rull will also be allowed to go back to his job in a Terrassa hospital from Wednesday. Jordi Turull will be returning to his place of work, the Badia law firm, also located in Terrassa, whereas Joaquim Form will be travelling to his office in Mediapro’s Barcelona HQ. ERC sources have confirmed that neither Oriol Junqueras nor Raül Romeva will be leaving the Lledoners facility. The former works for the university of Vic and has his office on the Manresa Campus. The latter does work for a company tasked with gauging the progress of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Jordi Sànchez and Carme Forcadell, who had been doing voluntary work outside prison when the state of emergency was declared, won’t be allowed out either, nor will Dolors Bassa, who used to look after her mother.

It’s worth remembering that when the Catalan prison boards began to study whether level 2 inmates who enjoyed daytime leave to go to work should be allowed to go home for the lockdown (this included the Catalan political prisoners), the Spanish Supreme Court leaked that if they agreed to send the political prisoners home, they might be committing perversion of justice. Eventually the Catalan prison boards decided not to grant the Catalan political prisoners permission to spend the lockdown at home.

58 inmates and 47 prison staff have tested positive

Catalonia’s Justice Ministry has revealed that only 22 inmates are presently being allowed to have a job outside prison thanks to Article 100.2, and all of them are currently on lockdown in jail. Out of a further 1,841 level 3 inmates, only 188 remain in jail as a result of the confinement.

Even though the Justice Ministry will allow level 3 (and Article 100.2) inmates to go back to work from Wednesday, the other measures aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19 in prison facilities remain in place. All leave and visits from friends and family have been cancelled, as well as any scheduled outings and all visits to the facilities, including conjugal ones.

So far a total of 56 inmates in Catalan prisons have tested positive for coronavirus, four of whom have made a full recovery. A further 16 remain in Terrassa’s Hospital Penitenciari, 32 in the COVID-19 ward of Module 4 in the Quatre Camins prison, two are in the COVID-19 ward of the Brians 2 facility, two in the Brians 1 infirmary for women, one in a regular hospital and another is at home. Up to 47 prison staff have also tested positive for coronavirus.

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