Spain’s Electoral Board bans jailed Catalan politician Oriol Junqueras from TV3 election debate

The board argues that the Soto del Real prison authorities are reluctant to allow Juqueras to take part in the debate due to its late start time (10 pm)

Oriol Junqueras, the former vice president of Catalonia who is currently on remand while standing trial for the independence referendum held in October 2017, will finally not be allowed to take part in the debate hosted by TV3, the Catalan public broadcaster, with the other candidates to the European elections. Spain’s Central Electoral Board [JEC in Spanish] has turned down Junqueras’ request by partly amending the Regional Electoral Board’s initial decision to allow the ERC candidate to take part in the debate [from prison and via a video feed], provided that the prison authorities in Soto del Real did not object to it. Indeed, a negative report issued by Spain’s Prison Service has prompted the JEC to deny Junqueras the chance to take part in the debate, according to a judgement sent to the political parties and the Catalan public TV network.

The JEC argues that the debate’s late start time (10 pm) plus its expected length (two hours) “do not fall within the operating hours of the prison’s video conferencing room and, furthermore, they are incompatible with the correctional facility’s general schedule”.

The PP and Ciudadanos had appealed the decision by the Barcelona Board arguing that a candidate held in prison and another in exile —former minister Toni Comín is currently in Belgium— couldn’t possibly take part in the debate hosted by the Catalan public tv because, among other reasons, a video feed would not guarantee a level playing field for the other candidates who would be physically present [in the television studio].

In the same statement, the JEC uses alternative arguments to prevent Junqueras from giving two interviews on Thursday May 16, one at 9 am with Catalunya Ràdio, Catalonia’s public radio network, and another at 10.30 with this newspaper. In this case the Board has indicated that “the video conferencing room is already booked at those times due to several court proceedings”. Oriol Junqueras was allowed to be interviewed last week by other news outlets, but he has not been granted permission to appear live at an election rally during the campaign yet.

This situation is in stark contrast with the campaign of the Spanish elections, where Junqueras was also the ERC candidate and he was allowed to take part in a number of political rallies, provided they did not conflict with the sessions of the trial against the Catalan leaders held in Madrid’s Supreme Court.