Spain’s High Court Blocks Catalan Separatist’s Power Bid


Spain’s Supreme Court on Thursday turned down a second request by a jailed leader of Catalonia’s independence movement to be released so that regional lawmakers can vote on making him their leader.

Judge Pablo Llarena said in a ruling that there remained a risk that Jordi Sanchez, a prominent secessionist, would repeat the offenses that landed him in a Madrid jail.

He is being detained while the Supreme Court investigates whether he orchestrated protests that hindered officials who were trying to stop a court-banned Catalan independence referendum last October. The ballot triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Pro-independence political parties in Catalonia have defied the Spanish government for the past six months with efforts to secede from Spain and create a new country. Court rulings have repeatedly thwarted their ambitions, however, because the Constitution says Spain is “indivisible.”

Llarena said the only new argument in Sanchez’s latest request was a reference to the U.N.’s Human Rights Committee calling for Spain to respect the rights of arrested Catalan separatists. The judge said the U.N. body had made no specific demand that might be binding on the Supreme Court.

Llarena also denied Sanchez’s request to appear in the Catalan parliament via video link, noting that Sanchez’s rights were “partially limited.”

Sanchez, who was elected to the Catalan parliament in December, hoped to attend a parliamentary session Friday where the slender majority of pro-independence lawmakers were to debate making him Catalan president. The court also refused to release Sanchez last month for a similar session.

The northeastern region of Catalonia, Spain’s wealthiest, has been without its own government since elections in December that were called by the national government in an attempt to end a standoff with secessionists.

Spanish authorities are showing no sign of letting up on pursuing legal charges against those behind the independence movement, though their success has been patchy.

Llarena last month charged 13 leading Catalan separatist politicians with rebellion for their attempts to make the region independent and ordered that international arrest warrants be issued for six who fled the country.

Former regional President Carles Puigdemont was arrested in Germany while driving to Belgium. They are all fighting extradition.

The lawyer for one of the fugitives, former Catalan government minister Clara Ponsati, said in a Scottish court Thursday the Spanish arrest warrant should be considered invalid because the politician has committed no crime under Scottish law. Ponsati, a professor at St. Andrews University in Scotland, was arrested last month at Spain’s request.

Her lawyers said during a Thursday hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court that they would fight extradition on grounds that include the validity of the warrant and Ponsati’s human rights. The case is due to be heard in July.

Outside court, attorney Aamer Anwar accused Spanish authorities of “prosecuting Clara for her political opinions” and said her extradition would be “unjust and oppressive.”

The case is due to be heard in July.

Also Thursday, Spanish prosecutors requested pre-trial detention for a woman believed to be a leader of Catalonia’s so-called Committees for the Defense of the Republic, a grassroots group that organizes protests. Those groups have been behind the blocking of road and train lines in Catalonia to press their demand for independence.

The public prosecutor argued that her actions had led to violence in the street and asked the National Court to charge her with rebellion, but a judge recorded a lesser charge of public disorder and ordered her to be released with instructions to report to the court weekly.