Jordi Cuixart hadn’t been back at work for two years and four months, and not for lack of want. He wasn’t unemployed or on sick leave and, even though his partner had a baby during this time, he was given no parental leave. 850 days after being sent to prison by Madrid’s Audiencia Nacional court —and after a conviction for sedition from the Supreme Court—, on Thursday Òmnium Cultural president Jordi Cuixart returned to Aranow, the flexible packaging business that he set up in 2003, where staff and reporters were waiting for him expectantly. As he walked through the front gate at 09.15, an hour after leaving the Lledoners prison, Cuixart said “Good morning, folks!”. He was expected back in Lledoners at 20.00 that same day, like a Cinderella of sorts.
Jordi Cuixart is one of the five Catalan political prisoners who have benefitted from Article 100.2 of the Prison Service’s rules and regulations, which allows inmates to ask for leave in order to go to work, look after a family member or engage in voluntary work. Cuixart finished his working day at 14.00 and he began the second task which the prison authorities have authorised him to undertake outside the facility: voluntary work for an undisclosed NGO which helps people at risk of social exclusion.
“I told you I’d be back and I’m back”, Cuixart said to his employees, many of whom he hadn’t seen all this time, as they clapped and hugged him. And shortly after the welcome, he told them to go back inside and encouraged “everyone get down to work!”. Prior to that they had breakfast together and held several meetings to bring Cuixart up to speed. Once he was in his office, a notification popped up on the mobile phones of his contacts: “Jordi Cuixart has joined Telegram”.
For nine and a half hours a day on weekdays, Cuixart won’t feel the weight of his chains, at least until the prison oversight judge (and, ultimately, Barcelona’s Audiencia court) decides whether to sanction the application of Article 100.2 in his case nor not. He will be allowed to make a restricted use of his mobile phone and the internet, with limited access to staff, friends and family members. While he won’t be watched by police —on Thursday he travelled in a car driven by an Òmnium Cultural official—, he is only allowed to use external facilities provided they are necessary for his job and his work as a volunteer.
Freedom and amnesty
Cuixart left the Lledorners prison facility in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada (north of Barcelona city) after 8 am in a private car without a police escort. He arrived at the Sentmenat industrial estate where his company is located after 9 am. Staff had been waiting for him for quite some time and he was met with an applause when they heard his voice outside the premises: “Good morning, folks!” Then came a message that was touching as well as militant: Cuixart vowed to keep fighting for “freedom and amnesty”.
Jordi Cuixart was sent to jail on 16 October 2017 on orders from Madrid’s Audiencia Nacional court. Since then he had only ever been allowed leave to appear in court, to see a doctor and to visit his newborn son in hospital. A month ago he enjoyed his first leave after the conviction, so he hadn’t had a chance to go back to the plant all this time. “I love you so much!”, he said to staff.
During a brief speech outside the factory, where many reporters had gathered, Cuixart spoke to his employees to say he was proud to have saved their jobs despite all the difficulties. “Our business commitment is also a form of social commitment”, he said, and he emphasised that “none of this makes sense unless you do it for the people”. And he added that “we have humbly achieved what we had set out to achieve; that is, to save the jobs without renouncing what we are”.
“I will strive to secure the future of this company and will fight for freedom and amnesty. Now everybody go back inside and let’s make some machines!”, he shouted as he was being hugged and before entering the factory through the warehouse.
Cuixart then posted his first message on social media after leaving Lledoners that morning: “Delighted to be back at the plant: social, business and democratic commitment. But we’re still spending every night in our prison cell and the fight must go on. I love you!”, he tweeted.
From work to an NGO
Cuixart was driven by an Òmnium Cultural official and had no police escort. His work schedule will be from 9 am to 2 pm and in the afternoon the will do two hours’ worth of voluntary work before going back to prison at 8 pm. Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez are the first two political prisoners to have benefitted from the prison’s board invoking Article 100.2 of the prison service’s rules and regulations, which establishes a regime that lies somewhere between category 2 and 3. This allows inmates to leave the prison facility to go to work, look after a family member or do voluntary work. Cuixart will be allowed day-time leave on weekdays, but will be going back to prison every evening. Former Speaker Carme Forcadell is also expected to be granted leave on similar terms any time now. She will be looking after her mother and doing voluntary work.
After spending 822 days in prison, Cuixart was first allowed to go out on 16 January on a two-day leave permit. These have nothing to do with Article 100.2 and both will operate in tandem from now on. In fact, Jordi Cuixart is awaiting a decision on the three-day leave he requested recently, which the Prosecutor’s Office opposes but has been endorsed by the Prison Supervision Court. The Prosecutor may still lodge an appeal against it with Barcelona’s Audiencia court.
Whenever Article 100.2 applies, it is the same judge (and, ultimately, the Audiencia court) that grants leave, but unlike with ordinary leave, in this case inmates may go ahead and take it without needing to wait for a firm court decision.
Cuixart remarked that the judge who upheld his request via Article 100.2 “merely acknowledged the fact that there cannot be any prisoners of conscience” and he added that “some in Spain’s judiciary are beginning to feel embarrassed by the situation” even though “the Prosecutor’s Office remains stuck in its ways”.