Thousands of Catalans took to the streets outside the region’s parliament in Barcelona on Thursday to protest the internment of eight ministers of Catalonia’s former government.
The former officials, along with four others who ignored Spain’s high court summons, are charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
Carles Puigdemont was also charged, but didn’t leave Belgium to answer to Spanish prosecutors. Madrid is pushing for a European Arrest Warrant for Mr Puigdemont.
Catalan flags and signs adorned with pro-independence slogans and demands for the “political prisoners” to be freed.
Other towns and cities across Catalonia outside Barcelona also held similar rallies in support of the former government officials with political parties, lobbyists and civic groups condemning the move.
Puigdemont arrived in Brussels last week, not to seek asylum as Belgium had previously offered, but to guarantee “safety” from Madrid after the Spanish government dismissed the Catalan autonomy following a declaration of independence.
On the charges against members of his former government, Puigdemont said the detention were “an act that breaks with the basic principles of democracy.”
“I demand the release of the ministers and the vice president,” he told Madrid in a statement that was broadcast on Catalan TV from an unknown location in Belgium.
The former Catalan president has made clear he will not travel to Madrid unless he is guaranteed a fair trial. The exact parameters of the guarantee are not publicly known.
Belgium’s federal prosecutor said the law will be carried if an EU arrest warrant is issued for Puigdemont, but it is unclear whether the offer of political asylum still stands.
Who are the ministers?
The following are the jailed ministers of the former regional government of Catalonia:
- Former Deputy Vice-President Oriol Junqueras
- Former Interior Minister Joaquim Forn
- Former Foreign Affairs Minister Raül Romeva
- Former Justice Minister Carles Mundó
- Former Labour Minister Dolors Bassa
- Former Government Presidency Councillor Jordi Turull
- Former Sustainable Development Minister Josep Rull
- Former Culture Minister Meritxell Borras
A ninth official, ex-Minister of Business Santi Vila, was allowed bail at with the approval of prosecutors. Mr Vila had quit before the Catalan parliament voted for independence on Oct 27.
Prosecutors have requested European Arrest Warrant’s for Meritxell Serret, former agriculture minister; Antoni Comín, former health minister; Lluís Puig, former culture minister; and Clara Ponsatí, the former education minister.
Six others within the former regional government are also facing charges but due to parliamentary immunity will have their cases handled by the Supreme Court starting with hearings on Nov 9.
More details to follow. Image 1 of the rallying outside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona on Thursday from ABC News.