Two of the Catalan pro-independence leaders in pre-trial detention have begun a hunger strike to protest against the hearings due to start in early 2019.
Jordi Sànchez, the former head of the influential Catalan National Assembly (ANC) grassroots independence movement, and Jordi Turull, a former minister in the Catalan government, have already announced their intention to go on a hunger strike to the prison authorities. It has also been confirmed by their lawyer.
There are reports in Spanish media that other actions of protest could soon be announced.
Jordi Pina, the lawyer representing Sànchez and Turull, said they are taking this step to ‘raise awareness’ of their plight.
‘I did not recommend this action, it is a decision of my clients and they have my full support,’ he added.
In a statement read by Pina, the two men accuse Spain’s Constitutional Court of blocking their appeals against their imprisonment from reaching the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
‘We will never give up on our right to a fair trial. We do not ask the Constitutional Court for any treatment of favour. But we do not passively accept any discrimination or unwanted delays,’ they said.
Pina said he did not know if the five other Catalan leaders jailed in the Lledoners penitentiary near Barcelona would later join the hunger strike.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the hunger strike ‘was obviously not good news’ and was not justified because the rights of the jailed Catalan leaders were being respected.
‘I think it is important to stress that they will have a fair trial because we live in a society based on the rule of law and the judiciary is independent,’ he told reporters at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
Spain’s Supreme Court in October ordered a total of 18 former Catalan leaders to stand trial over last year’s declaration of independence.
Prosecutors are seeking jail terms of up to 25 years on charges of rebellion or misuse of public funds over the failed secession bid.
The sensitive trial is expected to start in early 2019 – more than a year after Catalan leaders attempted to break away from Spain in October 2017 by staging a referendum despite a court ban and subsequently proclaiming independence.
In a statement, Catalan president Quim Torra expressed his ‘solidarity’ with the two prisoners who have begun a hunger strike.
‘This dramatic and drastic measure is being taken because of what we find to be the complete violation of citizens’ rights, civil and political rights, and of respect for the legal process. It’s my personal view that penal law is being used for vengeance,’ he added.
In Madrid, Spain’s central government reiterated its argument that the jailed Catalan leaders would have a fair trial and their rights were being respected.
‘We operate under the rule of law, we can respect their personal decision [to go on a hunger strike] but we must also understand that we are all equal under the rule of law,’ Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told reporters.
The decision to go on a hunger strike also comes as the first photo of the seven male jailed leaders in Lledoners prison was published by the pro-independence organisation Òmnium Cultural on Friday night.
It was taken in one of the courtyards of the penitentiary centre, and the seven officials are wearing comfortable, casual clothes. They are smiling and appear relaxed.
Four of them have been in detention for 13 months, so they have not been seen by the public for over a year.
The other three have been detained since March 2018, apart from having also spent a month in jail last autumn.
Two female leaders, Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa, are also in pre-trial detention, but they are in other centres for women.
The pro-independence civic organisation Òmnium Cultural published the picture on Friday night, along with a message by the jailed leaders and Òmnium itself.
‘The repression, with the shape of incarceration, has not weakened their convictions and they are conscientiously getting ready for the trial against democracy,’ reads the message.
‘Each of the prisoners comes from a different family within the political Catalanism and it is this plurality the one making the everyday life in the prison a learning in the fight for freedom.’
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With the picture, made public thanks to the penitentiary system to assess the progress of inmates, they want to send a message of ‘unity and calmness’.
The leaders also express sadness for not being able to be joined by Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa.