Chris Bambery: The Catalan exiles have won a victory - now let's get them home and the political prisoners out of jail

Chris Bambery, co-author of new book Catalonia Reborn, analyses the decision of the Spanish Supreme Court to drop the European Arrest Warrant’s for exiled Catalan former Ministers, and says campaigning efforts must now be stepped up to get the political prisoners out of jail and let the exiles go home

CLARA PONSATI and the other exiled Catalan leaders, including the former President of Catalunya, Carles Puigdemont, have won a notable victory after Spain withdrew its European Arrest Warrant on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public money.

The case was lost because a German court threw out any possible extradition of Puidgemont on the grounds of rebellion and sedition (charges which no longer exist in most European countries, except Spain).

If Spain had pursued the case on the grounds of the misuse of public funds, something they would have found difficult to prove, and Puigdemont had been extradited, he could not have been held in jail on that charge. Yet nine Catalan political prisoners are in jail awaiting trial on those charges of rebellion and sedition. That situation would not have been sustainable, so better to drop the extradition attempt.

Clara, Puidgemont and the others are now free to travel anywhere in Europe, except Spain. In other words they cannot go home to be with family and friends.

READ MORE: Spain withdraws warrants for Clara Ponsati and other exiled Catalan politicians

While we celebrate Clara’s victory we should now turn our efforts to securing their right to return home without charges and the release of those who are clearly political prisoners.

On a recent visit to Westminster Txell Bonet, the partner of the Catalan political prisoner Jordi Cuixart's wife, described how after he was jailed awaiting trial on charges of rebellion and sedition in a prison outside Madrid, she and her 6 month old son had to get up at 04:30am to take the train from Barcelona to see his father through a glass screen.

"You want to talk about lots of things," she said, "but it's stressful, with the pressure of time, knowing it will be over."

Jordi could not hold or touch his son.

The round trip was more than 1300 kilometres each week. To stay in touch Jordi would sing his baby son one particular Catalan song over the phone each evening.

His father was head of Òmnium Cultural, the main Catalan cultural organisation, and he is charged with organising Catalunya’s independence referendum last October, deemed illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court, and with inciting violence. Facing the same charges and jailed at the same time, though then held separately, is Jordi Sánchez, former president of the pro-independence Catalan National Assembly, the biggest social movement in Catalunya.

The last charge is farcical because as international observers, including Scottish MPs and MSPs, recorded the only violence on that day came from Spain’s paramilitary police tried to stop voting by smashing their way into polling stations, seizing ballot boxes and attacking those waiting to vote.  At one point when a confrontation did loom, Sánchez and Cuixart jumped on the roof of one of the cars and addressed the crowd, eventually urging them to leave the area peacefully, something caught on film.

Weeks after the two Jordis were jailed a number of Catalan ministers were charged with rebellion and sedition. Seven remain in jail:

- Oriol Junqueras, former Catalan Vice President and Minister of Finance

- Dolors Bassa Coll, former Labour, Social Affairs and Families minister

- Josep Rull, former Minister of Territory & Sustainability

- Jordi Turull, former Minister for the Presidency

- Joaquim Forn, former Minister of the Interior

- Carme Forcadell, former presiding officer of the Catalan Parliament

- Raül Romeva, former minister for Transparency, External & Institutional Relations

Despite the withdrawal of the European Arrest Warrants against their exiled colleagues all remain in jail awaiting trial this autumn.

READ MORE: ‘A great achievement’: Campaigners welcome defence of the right to self-determination from Sturgeon & Catalan President Quim Torra

Anna Forn, daughter of Joaquim Forn, also visited Westminster and told us the court had refused to release her father on bail despite him making it clear he had ended his political career. Carme Forcadell was found guilty on a separate charge of permitting the Catalan Parliament to simply debate a motion on independence, something a majority of elected members supported!

Some of the judges who jailed the nine are appointed by the government in Madrid. The chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia at Westminster, Hywel Williams MP, who hosted Anna and Txell’s visit, stated:

"I was shocked to see no division of powers and how politicised the Spanish judiciary was"

The new Socialist Government in Madrid has met with the new Catalan President, Quim Torra, but ruled out granting Catalunya a legal independence referendum. It has allowed the prisoners to be transferred to Catalan jails, ending Txell’s weekly trek. The two women prisoners are held in the Puig de les Basses prison outside Figueres in Northern Catalunya, the males in Lledoners prison to the north of Barcelona.

Speaking outside Lledoners prison after the transfer, ANC President, Elisenda Paluzie, said that as well as demanding their release, the rally was also calling for the case to be shelved.

COMMONSPACE AND ANC SCOTLAND FORUM 30 JULY IN EDINBURGH: Where now for Catalan independence?

She described it as an “ignominy” in the Spanish and European judiciary because it violated individual rights.

On Monday 30 July Elisenda will be one of the speakers at a public meeting Common Space is hosting in Edinburgh. Originally called in support of Clara now it will celebrate her win but also begin a discussion about a campaign to ensure the exiled can return home as free citizens and for the release of the nine jailed political prisoners.

"He and I don't speak much of the future," says Jordi Cuixart's partner Txell Bonet, "but we always prepare for the worst. We don't get our hopes up."

Let’s determine that Txell and her young son can be re-united with Jordi and that all walk free on Catalan soil.

Tickets for the CommonSpace and ANC Scotland Forum in Edinburgh on 30 July, 6pm are available on EventBrite. Limited spaces available.

Picture courtesy of Adolfo Lujan