Court confirms jailed Catalan leaders’ open prison but Supreme Court has last word

The judge slams the Prosecutor for making “biased, tendentious” statements and looking to “make an example” of the Catalan political prisoners

Catalonia’s Court 5 of Penitentiary Surveillance has dismissed the Prosecutor’s appeals which sought to revoke the open prison status granted to Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Joaquim Forn and Jordi Cuixart, effectively confirming their level 3 prison classification. However, the Catalan political prisoners will have to remain in jail for now because the judge believes their open prison benefits must remain suspended until Madrid’s Supreme Court has ruled on the appeal.

In her ruling the judge makes a number of harsh observations about the Public Prosecutor’s arguments and endorses the idea that the jailed Catalan leaders meet all the requirements to be classed as level 3 inmates, [which effectively means they only need to go back to sleep in prison on weekdays]. The ruling argues that the Catalan prisoners have spent “a significant length of time” behind bars and that they have all met their “re-education and social rehabilitation” goals.

So why can’t the Catalan leaders go back to enjoying their level 3 benefits, now that the judge has endorsed their status? The court believes that the Supreme Court’s judgement of 23 July prevents that. In an unexpected move, the Supreme Court invoked the Fifth Additional Provision of Spain’s Law of the Judiciary [LOPJ in Spanish] establishing that a Prosecutor’s appeal would suffice to immediately suspend any benefits that entailed the temporary release of a convict. Therefore, the Catalan prisoners will have to wait for the Prosecutor to appeal the court’s ruling before Madrid’s Supreme Court, which will have the last word on the matter.

Unlike Barcelona’s Court 1 of Penitentiary Surveillance, which refused to suspend the open prison status of Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa —they are still classed as level 3 inmates—, Court 5 (which deals with the Lledoners inmates) did agree to revoke the prison privileges of the Catalan prisoners held in Lledoners. However, in Wednesday’s ruling the judge refers to the Prosecutor’s appeal in rather harsh terms, saying that the arguments backing up his request are “incomplete, biased and tendentious”.

Specifically, the judge objects to the Prosecution’s move to extend the sentence imposed by the Supreme Court to the prisoners’ penitentiary itinerary, “impeding and preventing” them from receiving ordinary leave and benefits. The judgement points out that the Supreme Court’s ruling does not indicate that the Catalan leaders must serve half their sentence before they may apply for level 3 status.

A 21st century penitentiary administration

On the Prosecutor’s insistence that the Catalan prisoners have not followed a social rehabilitation programme specifically for the crime of sedition, the judge openly states that “there is no such thing in today’s 21st century modern penitentiary administration”. On this point, she mentions several times that the rules and regulations do not “impose on a convict the obligation to show remorse, declare themselves guilty or withdraw their plea of innocence”. For this reason the court argues that the Lledorners’ prison reports, which indicate that the inmates “acknowledge their responsibility and involvement” in the events that led to their conviction, are enough. Furthermore, the judge argues that they pose no risk of re-offending because they have all been barred from holding public office.

Finally, the court ruling queries the Prosecution’s insistence on doubting the prison’s social rehabilitation activities and programmes by enquiring about the exact number of sessions and their times: “this is an unacceptable request that, to my knowledge, has never been made by a Prosecutor in any other cases, including very serious crimes involving violence against individuals, sexually abused minors and crimes committed by serial offenders”. The judge goes on to say that the Prosecutor’s arguments suggest that he is seeking “to make an example” of the Catalan leaders convicted over the 2017 failed independence bid.

On hearing about the court’s decision to hold him in jail whilst confirming his level 3 status, Òmnium Cultural president Jordi Cuixart has called on the Catalan people not to lose focus in the face of the tricks of the State powers: “Judges, courts and prosecutors mustn’t distract us from our goals: amnesty and self-determination”, he remarked.