A judge of Spain's Supreme Court, Pablo Llarena, has told the defence council for the imprisoned Catalan ministers and pro-independence leaders that he is softening the order of preventive detention. The change applies to six of the ministers, with vice-president Oriol Junqueras, minister Joaquim Forn and the presidents of the ANC (Catalan National Assembly) and Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart to remain in custody. The others have now been offered bail, set at 100,000€ (£88,000, $118,000) per minister.
Llarena justifies his decision in the order because he sees a difference "with respect to some of those under investigation under consideration today, specifically with respect to Mr Oriol Junqueras i Vies, Mr Joaquim Forn, Mr Jordi Sànchez Picanyol and Mr Jordi Cuixart Navarro, whose contributions are directly linked to an explosion of violence which, if repeated, leaves no margin for correction or satisfaction for those affected by it"
This decision, however, is not final, and so the four now have the opportunity to present appeals. The lawyer for vice-president Junqueras, in fact, has already decided to appeal. It's expected that Forn, Sànchez and Cuixart will do the same.
Once the six ministers have posted bail and been released, the judge has imposed weekly appearances at the Supreme Court of Justice of Catalonia or a court of their choice. They are also banned from leaving the country and will have their passports withheld. The judge warns that failure to comply with any of these obligations will mean their immediate return to custody.
The judge believes that none of the accused pose a flight risk, but does consider there is a risk of reoffending in the cases of the four who will remain held on remand.
With regards to flight risk, Llarena believes it is similar to his assessment in the case of the members of the Catalan Parliament's Board. He also notes their deep personal, work and social links to Spain and their demonstrated willingness to respond to legal calls.
As for the risk of reoffending, the judge draws a distinction between the members of the Parliament's Board, who he describes as only having ignored legal orders, and those under consideration today, where he does see a reasonable judgement of a risk of reoffending which, in his opinion, could cause significant "harm".
The "siege" of the Economy ministry
Part of the judge's reasoning is based on what he describes as the "siege" at the Catalan Economy ministry on 20th September. He notes that Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart called for protests against the police search of the department, that Oriol Junqueras, also Economy minister, attended the rally, and says that "the forces entrusted with public order, which were under the responsibility of Mr Joaquim Forn, favoured or didn't deploy any action which could bring them to an end".
"The risk of repetition of their behaviour", he adds, "imposes on this instructing judge a greater degree of rigour and caution when combining the right to liberty of those under investigation with the right of the community to be able to carry out their daily activities in a context free of any foreseeable risk of supporting behaviours which would irreparably harm, not only their social or familial coexistence, as well as their free economic and labour development, but also their own physical integrity".
Llarena concludes that his evaluation of the risk of the four reoffending "reflects the probability that actions might be repeated with serious, immediate or irreparable consequences for the community".
The danger, according to the judge, doesn't go away with the formal statement that they are abandoning their previous strategy and with the legal undertaking to reappraise their situations if such statements prove false. Instead, "it requires confirmation that the possibility of new attacks has definitively disappeared, or that step-by-step it's confirmed that the change of heart is true and real".
One month behind bars
Junqueras and his seven fellow ministers have been in prison since 2nd November awaiting trial on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds relating to the independence process in Catalonia. Sànchez and Cuixart, meanwhile, have been in custody since 16th October.
The original decisions of preventive detention without bail were made by the National Audience court. On 24th November, however, the investigations against Catalan president Puigdemont, the 13 members of the government and the leaders of ANC and Òmnium, were transferred to the Supreme Court.