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Spain's top court says separatist politician stays in prison

An estelada or independence flag, hangs from a tree as a policeman walks past the entrance of Lledoners prison, where former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras is currently serving a prison sentence in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada, near Barcelona, Spain, on Dec. 19, 2019.

FELIPE DANA/AP

By JOSEPH WILSON | Associated Press | Published: January 9, 2020

BARCELONA, Spain— Spain's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that an imprisoned Catalan politician must  remain behind bars despite a European court ruling that his election to the European Parliament gave him immunity.

Oriol Junqueras' lawyer had requested his release so the separatist leader could travel and take his seat in the EU legislature and for his guilty verdict to be annulled.

The Spanish Supreme Court said Junqueras should not go free since he is serving a prison term after being found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds in October.

"He who participates in an electoral campaign while already on trial, even if eventually elected, does not enjoy immunity from national law," the court ruling said.

Junqueras, a former regional vice president for Spain's wealthy northeastern Catalonia, was elected to the European Parliament in May with his ERC separatist party  while in custody. At the time, he and other separatist s were on trial for their role in a 2017 secession attempt by Catalonia's regional government.

Spain's Supreme Court kept him locked up and asked a higher European court to weigh in on whether Junqueras had earned immunity following his election.

In October, Spain's Supreme Court found Junqueras guilty of sedition and the misuse of public funds, sentencing him to 13 years behind bars and banning him from holding public office.

The  European Union's top court responded in December that Junqueras enjoyed immunity when he was elected to the European parliament and that he should have been released from custody to take his seat in the European Parliament. However, the court said Spain's Supreme Court should decide how to apply the ruling given that Junqueras' status had since changed from that of suspect to convicted felon.

While Spain's conservative politicians celebrated the decision to keep Junqueras in prison, Catalan regional president and fervent separatist Quim Torra blasted the Supreme Court.

"A Spanish court does not abide by European justice," Torra wrote on Twitter. "Concerns grow in Europe for the democratic degradation of the Spanish state."

Spain's government lawyers had said that in their opinion Junqueras should be released to take his seat. Spain's state prosecutors, which represent the general interest, did not agree and said he should remain behind bars.

Junqueras is the leader of the Catalan separatist ERC party, whose support Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez needed to form a government on Tuesday, ending nearly a year of political limbo in the country. ERC's backing came at a price for Sánchez, whose Socialist party agreed to re-open talks with Catalan secessionists regarding the future of the restive region.
 

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