Case 22

Catalan Ministers Dolors Bassa, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Raül Romeva and Joaquim Forn sentenced to +50 years in prison

Eight of Catalonia’s separatist leaders have been jailed after appearing in court on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds. / EuroNews (2-11-2017)

Nine of 12 Catalan separatist leaders who defied the Spanish government and held an independence referendum in 2017 have been jailed for up to 13 years for sedition. Al-Jazeera (14-10-2019)

Description

Dolors Bassa, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Joaquim Forn and Raül Romeva were Ministers of the Government of the Generalitat of Catalonia when the referendum was held on 1 October  2017. Joaquim Forn, former minister for the Home Department, is in prison since 2 November 2017, while Dolors Bassa, Jordi Turull and Raül Romeva were freed on 4 December 2017, when the case was transferred from the Audiencia Nacional to the Supreme Court. They were imprisoned again on 23 March 2018 by the Supreme Court.

Bassa, Turull, Rull, Forn and Romeva were first accused of a crime of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement of public funds. On 14 October 2019, after more than 500 days in pre-trial detention (+700 in Forn’s case) denounced by the UN Working Group of Arbirtrary detention, ex-ministers Bassa, Turull and Romeva were condemned to 12 years in prison for the crimes of sedition and embezzlement of public funds, while Rull and Forn were condemned to 10.5 years in prison for the crime of seition only.

Attorney and commentator Eduard Salsas comments on the sentencing of Catalan separatists to 9 to 12 years behind bars over the failed 2017 independence bid: “It’s less than what it could have been but it’s a dark day for fundamental rights.” / France 24 English

Before

Bassa, Turull, Rull, Form and Romeva were appointed ministers after the victory of the pro independence coalition Junts pel Sí in the 2015 elections. A few months later, the government presided by Carles Puigdemont announced the holding of a referendum on self-determination, which took place on 1 October 2017.

After a symbolic independence declaration all the Ministers were removed of their position as a result of the application of article 155 of the Constitution by the Spanish Senate on 30 October, 2017 . A week later they were all called to the Audiencia Nacional -the former francoist Court of Public Order- to declare in the instruction procedure instituted by the Prosecutor General. Some of the ministers and the president himself had previously exiled, assuming that the probabilities of being sent to prison were high. That same day, the judge of the Audiencia Nacional Carmen Lamela decreed the imprisonment of the ones that remained in Spain.

Bench of the accused. Source: Eugènia Anglès/Nació Digital.
Bench of the accused. Source: Eugènia Anglès/Nació Digital.

Jailed ex-ministers Turull and Romeva defend referendum in trial. / Catalan News (19-02-2019)

UN calls for immediate release of four independence leaders (4-7-2019)

The outcome

Dolors Bassa, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Raül Romeva were released from pre-trial detention on 4 December 2017, while Joaquim Forn remained in jail because he had been the Minister of Interior, in charge of the Catalan Police, and the judge considered his freedom would put security at risk -although he was not the minister any more. In December of that same year, all the ministers imprisoned took part of the candidatures of Esquerra Republicana or Junts per Catalunya in the Catalan elections, called by the Spanish government after its dissolution of the Catalan parliament. They were all elected as MPs again. 

Joaquim Forn resigned from his seat in Parliament on 23 January 2018. Dolors Bassa did so on 22 March 2018. On the following day, and following a hearing at the Supreme Court, Dolors Bassa, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Raül Romeva -alongside the former president of the Parliament Carme Forcadell– were imprisoned again and have been in prison since then. 

Jordi Turull and Josep Rull were later elected as MP of the Spanish Congress on the elections that took place on 26 April 2019 (alongside Oriol Junqueras) and resigned as MPs of the Catalan Parliament. On the other side, Raül Romeva was elected member of the Senate. Joaquim Forn finally run for the elections in the municipality of Barcelona after giving up the primaries of his party in order to prepare his legal defense. He was elected member of the City Council. 

All the prisoners that had been elected in the several elections were allowed to take possession of their seats —except the ones elected to the European Parliament—, but they have been suspended by the Spanish Congress, the Spanish Senate and the Parliament of Catalonia. This entails an alteration of the parliamentary majorities and constitutes an unprecedented violation of democratic rights by the board of the institutions themselves, forced by the judiciary.

The former members of the Catalan Government waited for months in pre-trial detention (+500 days) for the sentence from the Supreme Court, where they were accused of very serious crimes for having organized the referendum: rebellion, sedition and embezzlement of public funds. The trial lasted three months. The Public Prosecutor asked for a penalty of 16 years of imprisonment to Dolors Bassa, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Joaquim Forn and Raül Romeva.

On 14 October 2019, Bassa, Turull and Romeva were sentenced to 12 years in prison and a 12-year ban on holding public office for the crimes of sedition and embezzlement of public funds, while Rull and Forn were sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in prison and banned from holding public office for the same length of time for the crime of sedition.

Sentences requested by the State Prosecutor's Office. Source: Spanish Supreme Court.
Sentences requested by the State Prosecutor's Office. Source: Spanish Supreme Court.
Sentences requested by the far-right party Vox, acting as 'popular prosecution'. Source: Spanish Supreme Court.
Sentences requested by the far-right party Vox, acting as 'popular prosecution'. Source: Spanish Supreme Court.

Violated rights

The prosecution of the former Ministers is a violation of the right to self-determination of peoples, enshrined in article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as they are being processed for having organized a referendum that was meant to be the instrument to exercise this right. 

The judicial process against the former Catalan Ministers violates their right to effective judicial protection and to a fair trial as provided in article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Specifically, the right to an impartial and ordinary judge, predetermined by law, as well as the right to a process with all the guarantees have been violated. The rights to ideological freedom and freedom of expression, protected by articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, have also been violated, while the principle of legality provided in article 8 of the abovementioned Convention has been broken because under no circumstances do the acts of the former ministers fit with the legal definition of the crimes they are accused of. 

On the other hand, the preventive prison entails a violation of the right to the presumption of innocence and the right to freedom, protected by articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Regarding this issue, the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention stated that the pre-trial detention of ex-ministers Forn, Romeva, Bassa and Rull had been “arbitrary” and thereby contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

With regard to their suspension as a Member of the Catalan Parliament and as a Member of the Spanish Congress, it is necessary to take into account the ruling issued by the European Court of Human Rights on 20 November 2018, in which it ruled that Turkey should release Selahattin Demirtas, the Kurdish representative in custody for more than two years. In that case, the European Court of Human Rights considered that the rights of Demitras as an MP had been seriously damaged and, in return, political pluralism and the Turkish democratic system were harmed.

The rights violated during the trial are summarized in a report from International Trial Warch, an organization that coordinated all the International observers being present at the trial. Amnesty International has also published its own report. 

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