Spanish judge jails top Catalan lawmaker ahead of trial

World Today

Ex-speaker of the Catalonia parliament Carme Forcadell, center, arrives at the Supreme Court in Madrid, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. Six Catalan lawmakers are testifying Thursday before a Spanish judge over claims that they ignored Constitutional Court orders and allowed an independence vote in Catalonia’s regional parliament. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Six Catalan politicians who helped lead the drive for independence from Spain appeared before a Supreme Court judge in Madrid for the second time in a week on Thursday.

The judge had given them an extra week to prepare their defense. Faced with the threat of Catalan independence, the Spanish government has called for Catalan parliament elections next month.

Both sides, those in favor of independence and those for unity with Spain, are digging in for a tough campaign. 

CGTN’s Al Goodman reports.

The speaker of the now-dissolved Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, greets the Catalans who came from Barcelona to show support. But there were also protesters – demanding the unity of Spain. Opposing groups, some waving the Spanish flag, others the Catalan independence flag, shouting insults. The police worked to keep them apart.

The court appearance comes a day after a strike in Catalonia in favor of independence. In Barcelona, protesters blocked the tracks of the bullet train to Madrid, delaying service and disrupting the central station. There have been many other protests since the Spanish government took direct rule of Catalonia, ousting the pro-independence government.

Snap elections for Catalan parliament are set for Dec. 21. Madrid hopes this time, Catalan unionist parties will win, not the pro-independence parties again. 

But a Spanish senator from Catalonia says the court cases against 20 Catalan leaders are actually helping the independence candidates.

“The fact that a part of the Catalan government is in jail, another part is in Brussels and that the parliament leaders are also charged, just for exercising their democratic rights and defending their principles — we think that will increase turnout for the independence voters,” said Josep Lluis Cleries. 

Some ousted Catalan leaders are running as candidates in the elections including the ex-President Carles Puigdemont. He’s in Brussels with four aides, waiting to hear whether Belgium will send them back to Spain to face charges. The ousted Catalan Vice-President, Oriol Junqueras, is in pre-trial prison in Madrid with eight other former cabinet members. But he’s the leading candidate in some polls.    

It’s a highly unusual campaign for Catalan parliament. The independence and the unionist camps are both watching closely to see if Spanish judges keep Catalan leaders in jail, on rebellion charges, or let them out, before the vote.