Spain’s Constitutional Court unanimously denies sentence suspension request in case of Catalan political prisoners

The leaders of the 2017 independence referendum had asked to be released until the Constitutional Court hands down a decision following their appeal

On Tuesday Spain’s Constitutional Court turned down the Catalan political prisoners’ request to have their sentences suspended while the Court considers their appeal against the ruling in the court case of the 2017 failed independence bid. Spain’s newswire EFE reports that the Constitutional Court has unanimously rejected the request that the pro-independence leaders be released, thereby endorsing the Prosecutor’s arguments.

The court has ruled that the convictions for the events of 1 October 2017 cannot be suspended because the sentences imposed are longer than five years (they range from nine to thirteen), which —according to the court’s doctrine— precludes adopting any such measures.

The fact that the judges who sit on the Constitutional Court’s bench have reached a unanimous decision in principle seems to validate the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court in the case of the Catalan leaders. While the Constitutional Court has never ruled for the defence in this case, prior decisions have never been unanimous: namely, the prisoners’ request to appear in Parliament or to take up their seat in the Catalan chamber during the pre-trial phase of the case, when three judges argued that “alternative measures” should be found so that their political representation was not limited. However, this time the entire panel has agreed to dismiss the political prisoners’ request.

Tuesday’s decision means that the Constitutional Court has ruled on all but three of the release requests lodged by the convicted Catalan leaders: ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, former minister Raül Romeva and former House Speaker Carme Forcadell. All three had filed a motion challenging every judge on the Constitutional Court’s bench and their cases will be dealt with at a later date.

The first reactions to the court’s decision were quick to arrive. Both Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the two grassroots leaders who have spent the longest in jail (since 16 October 2017) posted a message on Twitter slamming the tribunal.

Òmnium Cultural president Jordi Cuixart wrote that “like in 2010, the Constitutional Court never disappoints”, while Jordi Sànchez —the former Catalan National Assembly leader and now president of la Crida— wrote that the Constitutional Court “is mocking the UN and Amnesty International”, two of the organisations that have called for their release.

ERC president Oriol Junqueras also responded to the Constitutional Court’s ruling with a post on Twitter: “The only justice we can expect will come from Europe and, above all, from our fellow compatriots who know we are innocent”, he remarked.

Last stop before Strasbourg

The appeal lodged against the Supreme Court’s ruling is the Catalan political prisoners’ last stop before taking matters up with Europe. On May 6 the Constitutional Court agreed to see their appeals due to “their constitutional relevance” and has now begun to consider whether the Supreme Court’s ruling in the independence referendum case constituted a violation of the defendants’ basic rights. This process could take months or even years, depending on how swift the judgement is.

When it agreed to see the appeals lodged by the political prisoners, former Catalan minister Jordi Turull accused the Constitutional Court of playing for time and “shoving our file into the bottom of the pile”, thus denying them the chance to have a European court see their case right away. In fact, the JxCat prisoners went on hunger strike before the trial for this very reason: they were denouncing that the Constitutional Court’s strategy denied them access to an international court of law.

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