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Jailed Catalan leader 'entitled to immunity' as member of European Parliament

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this file photo, taken on May 20, 2019, Catalonia's former vice-president and elected member of parliament Oriol Junqueras (L) is seen smiling inside the parliament building in Madrid, after being temporarily released to register as MP. (By AFP)

A Catalan leader jailed for his role in an independence referendum deemed illegal by Spain has been entitled to immunity as a member of the European Parliament despite not having being able to take up his seat, the EU's highest court ruled on Thursday.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), ruling in respect of Oriol Junqueras, marks a likely boost for the Catalan separatist movement and potentially puts judicial authorities in Brussels and Madrid at loggerheads.

Junqueras was sentenced in October to 13 years in jail for sedition and misuse of public funds related to the region's failed independence bid in autumn 2017, which Spanish authorities had declared illegal.

He was elected to the European Parliament in May despite having been in prison in Spain since November 2017.

Eight other leading figures in the independence movement were sentenced to prison along with Junqueras, and the bitter standoff between them and the government in Madrid has dominated Spain's fragmented political landscape for more than two years.

A spokeswoman for the government said it had no immediate comment on the ruling.

The court said that if Spanish authorities wanted to prevent Junqueras from traveling to the European Parliament, they would have to request that the parliament waive his immunity.

That immunity means an MEP cannot be subject to detention or legal proceedings because of views expressed or votes cast, although it does not apply to an MEP who has committed an offense.

Catalan separatist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), of which Junqueras is chairman, demanded his immediate release following the verdict.

"The (court)... acknowledges that he had immunity," the party wrote on Twitter. "We demand that the trial be voided and (his) immediate freedom."

(Source: Reuters)

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