Spanish court frees Catalan speaker on bail

MADRID: The sacked speaker of Catalonia’s parliament left a prison near Madrid on Friday hours after supporters posted her 150,000-euro ($175,000) bail, ending her brief detention over the region’s controversial independence drive.
A judge at the Supreme Court in Madrid on Thursday had ordered Carme Forcadell to be held on charges of “rebellion” — which carries a maximum jail term of 30 years — as Spain’s worst political crisis in a generation rumbles on.
Forcadell was one of several dismissed Catalan officials to be detained after their shock decision last month to declare the region of 7.5 million people independent from Spain.
A source said Forcadell arrived at the Alcala Meco jail near Madrid after midnight (2300 GMT on Thursday).
A court spokeswoman said on Friday that the 150,000-euro bond had been paid. “She is out,” a spokesman for the interior ministry said afterwards.
The influential pro-independence ANC lobby group had earlier called for donations to cover Forcadell’s bail.
The Catalan crisis has caused shockwaves across the European Union (EU), prompting hundreds of businesses to re-register outside of the wealthy northeastern region.
Lawmakers opted to split from Spain, claiming they had a mandate after a referendum on October 1 saw 90 per cent of voters back secession.
But less than half of the electorate took part in a vote denounced as illegimate by Madrid.
Catalans themselves remain deeply split over whether their region should break away from what is Europe’s fourth-largest economy today.
In response to the declaration, Madrid fired Catalonia’s government and parliament, suspended the region’s autonomy and called for new elections there next month.
Forcadell appeared at the Supreme Court in Madrid on Thursday along with five former Catalan lawmakers.
She left in a police car, but the others were given a temporary reprieve by the judge, who said they must pay 25,000 euros ($30,000) each within a week or be detained. “Thank you very much to all of you for your support, warmth and esteem,” Forcadell had tweeted.
Writing on Twitter, deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who has left for Belgium, said Forcadell had had “to sleep in jail for having allowed a democratic debate.”
Puigdemont and four former Catalan ministers are due to appear before a Belgian judge next week after Spain issued a EU-wide warrant for their extradition. Eight members of his former cabinet were detained last week on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds for their role in the independence push.
The 54-year-old former journalist argues he will not get a fair trial in Madrid, and has called on authorities to release Catalan “political prisoners”.
A lifelong advocate of Catalan independence, Forcadell insists that as parliamentary speaker she did not “have the freedom to stop” the October 27 vote that saw lawmakers back a break from Madrid.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called for voters to turn out en masse for the December 21 elections in Catalonia, a region that accounts for a fifth of Spain’s GDP. — AFP