‘I’m a Political Prisoner,’ Catalan Ex-Official Insists

February 14, 2019 Updated: February 14, 2019

MADRID—Former Catalan deputy leader Oriol Junqueras, standing trial in Madrid for rebellion, said Feb. 14 he was a political prisoner and insists his region had the right to secede from Spain.

Junqueras is the most prominent of 12 Catalan leaders being tried at the Supreme Court since Feb. 12 over a failed independence bid in 2017, in a landmark case that has laid bare deep social divisions and triggered Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.

“I am convinced that I am being accused for my ideas and not for my deeds,” he told the court. “…I was dismissed as deputy head of the Catalan government after [Madrid took control]… and because of that, I believe I am a political prisoner.”

Madrid closed down the region’s parliament and took over its government after Catalonia declared independence in October 2017.

That declaration followed a referendum on secession, deemed constitutionally illegal by the courts and to which central government responded by sending riot police. Heavy-handedness by security forces in trying to prevent the vote led to widespread criticism.

Asked by his lawyer about that day, Junqueras said, “Voting is not a crime, but it is a crime to prevent people from doing so using force.”

He rejected any suggestion he had incited violence—a necessary component of any conviction for rebellion under Spanish law—during the vote.

In testimony that veered from quietly spoken to emotional, Junqueras, at one point, apologized for his sometimes rambling answers.

“If at times I’m a little passionate in my answers, it’s because I’ve been a year-and-a-half without being able to talk,” he said. He declined to answer questions from prosecutors.

The defendants and their supporters say they are political prisoners, while the government says they are being judged strictly in line with the rule of law.

By Jose Elías Rodríguez