Yesterday gave us a historic image when the Catalan political prisoners who won a seat in the recent Spanish elections were driven to parliament with a police escort in order to collect their official credentials. Newly-elected lawmakers Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull, plus senator Raül Romeva, were driven back to Madrid’s Soto del Real prison after completing the necessary paperwork in the Spanish chamber. The motorcade —led by a Guardia Civil car followed by several unmarked vehicles— left the correctional facility shortly after 9 am on Monday morning. The Catalan MPs were driven to the respective chambers where they sorted out the paperwork under police watch, as mandated by Spain’s Supreme Court. About one hour later, they were driven back to prison in police vehicles.
The jailed representatives were not issued their mobile phones and tablets, although their attaché cases will be kept by their parliamentary groups. Speaking to reporters, MP Josep Lluís Cleries (JxCat) remarked that they are “incommunicado MPs”. They completed the formalities while accompanied by several other MPs, including Bildu’s Jon Iñarritu, as well as ERC and JxCat lawmakers. The jailed MPs did not enter the building through the car park’s main entrance —which meant the media missed their arrival— and they appeared at the lifts on the ground floor of the parliament, where their peers were waiting for them.
In Madrid’s senate, Raül Romeva was given a warm welcome by his thirteen ERC colleagues, including senators Ana Surra, Miquel Caminal, Sara Bailac and Josep Quintana. It took Romeva less than ten minutes to pick up his credentials and exit the Clara Campoamor hall as those present applauded and embraced him.
The jailed representatives were not allowed to speak to the press or attend any work meetings, but that didn’t stop them from posting messages on Twitter. “I’m in the Spanish parliament, among friends and colleagues. A real privilege. I told them that seeing all 15 of them on tv made me feel incredibly proud. We need a victory on Sunday and a free Catalonia”, Junqueras said in a video posted on social networks.
In Romeva’s case, the newly-elected ERC senator said he appreciated the welcome and celebrated his new office: “We are politicians, politics is our business and that’s what we’ll keep doing”. After taking an oath of allegiance to the Constitution on Tuesday, next we will see whether they are allowed to go about their business or they will be suspended, given their judicial situation. This possibility was mentioned in the first messages sent out by the jailed representatives. Sànchez said he doesn’t know “to what extent” he will “be allowed to exercise my mandate” while MP Turull remained hopeful: “Let’s hope all the MPs elected at the polls will allow those of us who have been jailed due to a vote to do our job”.
Still, the deputy leader of the JxCat group in the Spanish parliament, Laura Borràs, emphasised that Sànchez, Turull and Rull are “certain” that the board of the chamber “will uphold their rights” and won’t suspend them, which it could do in accordance with Article 21.1 of the rules and regulations of the lower chamber. Speaking at a press conference, once the jailed representatives had completed all the paperwork for their credentials, Borràs was asked whether Sànchez, Rull and Turull intend to give up their seat if they are suspended. She replied emphatically that “they do not want to give up anything”. “What they want is to exercise their rights. Someone will have to prevent them from doing the job they have been elected to do”. She added that “the only possible hurdles will be the decisions by the Supreme Court or the board of the parliament”.
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont also celebrated the issuing of parliamentary credentials, which in his view “certifies” that they are political prisoners. “They are going into the chamber to stand for the very same views that landed them in jail. An embarrassment for some and a source of immense dignity for you”, he tweeted.
Greeting PM Pedro Sánchez
ERC’s senators and law-makers had a group photo taken outside the Spanish parliament’s main entrance and spokesman Gabriel Rufián stressed how abnormal it was that it wasn’t Oriol Junqueras who spoke to the press. Still, he said he hoped it would be “business as usual” and didn’t rule out the possibility that Junqueras might greet the other political leaders, including PM Sánchez, in the chamber this Tuesday. Rufián said that “if it happens, that’s ok and it should be a normal thing”, although he pointed out that it is the PSOE leader who should approach Junqueras, as the latter is the winner the elections in Catalonia.
Rufián also read a short message from Junqueras and Romeva: “Today we were allowed to come out of jail and give our colleagues a hug thanks to your votes. We have picked up our credentials and we are looking forward to exercising our rights here and elsewhere. Your ballots have made us free. Tomorrow [Tuesday] we will be back. We’ll get to look in the eye those who would like us to stay quiet in a prison cell, silenced and subdued. We will look at them with a victorious smile and the dignity of someone who is not afraid. We will show Pedro Sánchez, face to face, that democracy is stronger than repression and the ballot will always trump the baton. Ballot papers and ballot boxes are our greatest assets. Nothing will ever stop them. We start a new era which begins by bringing down the prison walls and will continue on Sunday with a victory at the local polls. We will beat the jailers clad in robes and sitting in parliament”. Junqueras and Romeva used the opportunity to denounce “Spain’s so-called democracy” that has prevented them from meeting their colleagues in parliament and speak to the press.
Except for Romeva, the other prisoners could have registered by proxy, but the Supreme Court granted them permission to do it personally “without delaying their prompt return to the correctional facility”. Rull called the situation “surreal and totally unreal” in a video posted on Twitter where he decried being denied the chance to meet with the parliamentary group and the fact that they had been “kept under watch at all times”. The jailed representatives will leave prison tomorrow [Tuesday] to attend the parliament’s inauguration under the same conditions. That is why their trial sessions have been adjourned until Wednesday this week.