MADRID/BARCELONA (Reuters) - Spain’s Supreme Court has ruled that five Catalan separatist leaders can leave prison to be sworn in as lawmakers next Tuesday but said it would not halt the trial over their role in Catalonia’s independence bid in 2017.
Oriol Junqueras, Josep Rull, Jordi Turull and Jordi Sanchez all won seats in the lower house of parliament in a national election on April 28. Raul Romeva, won an upper chamber seat.
The five are currently being held in custody on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds relating to the 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia - which was deemed illegal by Spanish courts - and a subsequent unilateral declaration of independence. They deny the charges.
In its ruling issued on Tuesday, the court said it did not agree to their request for the trial to be suspended or for a grant of immunity.
It added that it “does not accept the request for freedom of Junqueras, Rull, Turull, Sanchez and Romeva but authorizes their release from prison on May 21 to attend the constituent meetings of Congress and Senate”.
Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists won last month’s national election, but will still need the support of other parties plus at least one vote or abstention from Basque or Catalan nationalist parties.
The court ruling could lead to a difficult choice for the four jailed Catalan leaders in the lower house between giving up their seats to allow a party colleague to take their place and missing what could be the deciding vote on forming a government.
Sanchez, Rull and Turull, all belonging to Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), have ruled out giving up their seats, a party source said on Tuesday. Junqueras’s Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) did not respond immediately to questions about its plans.
The Catalan leaders should be properly guarded to ensure their safety during the parliamentary session and return without delay to jail once it is finished, the ruling said.
Spain’s Acting Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska declined to discuss security details for the swearing-in session but said that “necessary measures will be put in place to ensure a day of normality”, Europa Press reported.
Parliament’s lower house will first convene on May 21. It was not immediately clear how the jailed separatist leaders’ status as prisoners would affect the swearing-in ceremony.
Lawyers for the Catalan leaders told reporters they would consider appealing against Tuesday’s ruling.
“We have to make sure that this release is not simply a formality and a photo opportunity (…) but rather that those who voted for [the elected Catalan leaders] find their representatives carrying out their duties in a state of complete normality,” said defence lawyer Andreu Van den Eynde.
In February, they were transferred in police vans under high security from a jail in Catalonia to one in Madrid days before their trial started.
Last week, a Madrid court ruled that former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in 2017 to escape arrest for his role in the independence referendum, could run in the European Parliament election on May 26.
Editing by Andrei Khalip and Gareth Jones