Authorities in Madrid and Barcelona locked horns over whether two jailed Catalan pro-independence leaders were political prisoners, as their detention looked set to reignite secessionist protests.
The Madrid High Court upped the stakes on Monday in Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, moving to thwart Catalonia’s independence push by jailing the heads of its two main separatist groups pending an investigation for alleged sedition.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, given a Thursday deadline to renounce independence or face the threat of direct rule from Madrid, tweeted following the detentions: “Sadly, we have political prisoners again”.
The phrase made a clear allusion to the military dictatorship under Francisco Franco, when Catalan culture and language were systematically suppressed. It carries an emotional resonance given fascism is still a living memory for many Spaniards.
In response, Justice Minister Rafael Catala told reporters on Tuesday the jailing of Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium’s Jordi Cuixart was a judicial decision, not a political one.
“We can talk of politicians in prison but not political prisoners,” Catala said. “These are not political prisoners because yesterday’s prison ruling was due to a (suspected) crime.”
The exchange threw a spotlight on the way the crisis has deepened divisions at the heart of Spain’s young democracy, underlining the complex sense of nationhood in the euro zone’s fourth largest economy.
In Madrid, unionists drape their homes in the national flag, while many Barcelona apartment buildings are festooned with Catalan flags.
European capitals and financial markets have meanwhile looked on with mounting alarm since Oct. 1, when Catalan authorities held a referendum on independence in defiance of a Spanish court ban.
Sanchez’s ANC, which has organized protests of hundreds of thousands of secessionists in the past, called for further peaceful demonstrations around Catalonia on Tuesday. The biggest are expected to begin in Barcelona in the evening.
Prosecutors say Sanchez and Cuixart helped orchestrate pro-independence protests that last month trapped national police inside a Barcelona building and destroyed their vehicles.—Agencies