Political prisoners in Europe used to be a thing of the past; as of Monday afternoon, Spain has two.
Spanish judge Carmen Lamela has ruled that the leaders of the two biggest grassroots pro-independence associations in Catalonia should remain in prison without bail on possible charges of sedition for which, if convicted, they could face prison sentences of up to 10 years.
The legal investigation claims Jordi Sanchez, the leader of Catalan National Assembly (ANC) movement, and Jordi Cuixart, who heads the Omnium Cultural association, were heavily involved in organising the massive protest aimed at hindering a Guardia Civil investigation in Barcelona into the build-up for the 1 October illegal referendum. Specifically, members of the Guardia Civil were trapped in Catalan government offices on 20 September as a result of thousands of protestors encircling the building, in what has been described as a "siege" and during which three police vehicles were destroyed.
Now, in a decision that could further enflame separatist passions, both Cuixart and Sanchez are set to spend the night in a prison near Madrid; the two earlier refused to answer questions from the judge overseeing the investigation. Summoned to court twice on Monday, on entering they gave clenched fists victory salutes to a small group of supporters.
The ANC and Omnium are the two most powerful non-institutional Catalan separatist organisations, responsible for organising the annual marches in which several hundred thousand people are estimated to take part.
As reported earlier, the chief of the Catalan police, Josep Lluis Trapero, was also questioned in the same courtroom on Monday for a second time in ten days, on possible charges of sedition over the regional police force’s allegedly overly passive role during the build-up to the 1 October referendum. Trapero, who prosecutors had also asked to be detained, was finally released without bail, although his passport was confiscated.
Predictably the imprisonment of two of their best-known local leaders has provoked outrage amongst the separatist movement according to The Independent, further raising tension on an already exceptionally fraught day in Spain’s prolonged political crisis in Catalonia.
According To The Spain Report, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont tweeted the judge's decision was "very bad news".
"Imprisoning Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez is very bad news. They mean to imprison ideas but they make the need for freedom stronger in us."
Deputy First Minister Oriol Junqueras also responded on Twitter within minutes, in English: "We ask to sit and talk and the PP, through the Public Prosecutor, responds with unconditional imprisonment for @jordisanchezp and @jcuixart".
The independence movements were clearly outraged: Omnium Cultural tweeted: "The loss of liberty for the chairmen of Omnium and the ANC is unacceptable in a democratic society. The mobilisation continues, they cannot imprison a whole people!". The ANC released a pre-recorded message from Mr. Sánchez, in which he said his imprisonment did not respond "to any principle of justice", and that the court sought to "frighten us, punish us for having defended liberty".
The Catalan government's Director of Foreign Communications, Joan Maria Pique, tweeted: "Shame. Spain, the Turkey of the west".