Catalan independence leaders Jordi Cuixart (l) and Jordi Sànchez have been jailed.Spain has signalled a hardening line over Catalonia by jailing the leaders of two of the largest separatist organisations in a move seen as taking Madrid closer to imposing central rule over Catalonia.In the first imprisonment of senior secessionist figures since Catalonia’s 1 October independence referendum, the court ordered the heads of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and independence group Omnium to be held without bail pending an investigation for alleged sedition.
Prosecutors said that the ANC’s Jordi Sànchez and Omnium’s Jordi Cuixart played central roles in orchestrating pro-independence protests that last month trapped national police inside a Barcelona building and destroyed their vehicles.
Around 200 people flocked to the Catalan government’s headquarters in Barcelona on Monday in a peaceful show of support for both men, with some chanting “Freedom” and waving “Democracy” banners.
The Catalan regional president, Carles Puigdemont, commented on Twitter: “Spain jails Catalonia’s civil society leaders for organising peaceful demonstrations. Sadly, we have political prisoners again” – an allusion to Spain’s military dictatorship under Francisco Franco.
The high court also banned the Catalan police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, from leaving Spain and seized his passport while he is being investigated over the same incident, though it did not order his arrest.
Last Tuesday, Puigdemont stepped back from asking the Catalan parliament to vote on independence, instead making a symbolic declaration and calling for negotiations on the region’s future.
In a confrontation viewed with mounting alarm in European capitals and financial markets, Puigdemont failed on Monday to respond to Madrid’s ultimatum to clarify whether he had declared unilateral independence in a speech last week. He now has until Thursday to back down.
In a letter to the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, Puigdemont gave no direct answer on the independence issue, instead making a “sincere and honest” offer of dialogue over the next two months.In reply, Rajoy said Puigdemont’s stance had brought Madrid closer to triggering article 155 of the constitution, under which it can impose direct rule on any of the country’s 17 autonomous communities if they break the law.
The Catalan government’s campaign to break away from Spain has pitched the country into its worst political crisis since an abortive coup attempt in 1981.On Monday the economy ministry told the European Union that it had slashed its economic growth forecasts for next year partly due to the situation.