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Jailed Catalan leader entitled to immunity, EU court rules

Luxembourg / Oriol Junqueras, who was convicted to 13 years prison for his involvement in a banned referendum on independence in Catalonia northeastern Spain, should have been recognised as a Member of the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.

“#ECJ: a person elected to the #EP acquires the status of MEP at the time of the official declaration of the results and enjoys, form that time, the immunities attached to that status #Junqueras @junqueras (press release will follow),” the ECJ Tweeted.

The sentence, read by the president of the ECJ Koen Lenarts, said that: “persons who, like Mr. Junqueras Vies, have been elected Members of the European Parliament enjoy, from the moment the results are declared, the immunity as regards travel which is attached to their status as Member and provided for in the second paragraph of Article 9 of the Protocol.”

The court added that the purpose of the legislation was to allow MEPs to travel to the Eurochamber and participate in sessions.

Junqueras, the former deputy leader of the regional Catalan government, was elected to the European Parliament on 26 May 2019.

He had been in provisional detention before the elections took place due to his involvement in the Catalan referendum on independence, which took place on 1 October 2017.

On 14 October Junqueras was found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds and sentenced to 13 years. He was also banned from holding public office for another 13 years.

Since being elected he has not participated in EP sessions.

Thursday’s ruling added that if the Spanish Supreme Court considered it necessary to maintain Junqueras in provisional imprisonment, it would have to lodge a request to the EP to suspend Junqueras’ immunity.

The ECJ’s ruling backed Junqueras and rejected the Spanish government’s view that the Catalan is not a consolidated MEP and should not enjoy immunity having failed to complete procedures required by Spanish law, despite being an elected member of the EP.

Junqueras was among a group of nine Catalan politicians and activists who were convicted by Spain’s Supreme Court.

The convicted politicians and activists were found guilty of staging an unauthorized referendum on Catalan independence.

The illegal ballot brought Spain to the brink of a constitutional crisis. In response, the government at the time triggered a constitutional article to sack the regional Catalan government, dissolved parliament, temporarily suspend the region’s autonomous status and opened the path for legal proceedings against the accused.

Spain’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest judicial rung, had ruled the referendum unconstitutional.

On the day of voting, thousands of national police officers, under orders from the Spanish interior ministry, attempted to block people from voting often through the use of batons and other forceful measures and seized countless ballot boxes, although Catalans still managed to cast nearly 2.3 million votes, with the “yes” option winning 92 percent of them (turnout was only 43 percent of registered voters). (December 19, 2019, EFE/EPA/Practica Español)

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