March 3, 2020 / 5:59 PM / a month ago

Jailed Catalan leader can't temporarily serve as EU lawmaker: EU court

FILE PHOTO: Catalan separatist leader Oriol Junqueras leaves after speaking at a regional parliamentary investigative commission on Spain's central government decision in 2017 to take control of the Catalan government, at Parliament of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - A jailed Catalan separatist leader elected to the European Parliament while behind bars cannot serve as an EU lawmaker or enjoy immunity while his case is heard by the European Union Court of Justice, another EU court said on Tuesday.

Oriol Junqueras, who was voted into the EU assembly in 2019 despite being detained in Spain since 2017 for his role in an illegal independence referendum in Catalonia, had requested the court to reinstate his rights as an EU lawmaker until a final court verdict.

“The Vice-President of the General Court dismisses the application of Mr Junqueras ... for interim measures,” the General Court, which is the second highest in the EU, said in a statement.

Junqueras has asked the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court, to rule on whether he has full EU lawmaker rights and immunity from prosecution. That judgment is expected soon.

The October 2017 referendum, which was declared illegal by Spanish courts, led to a short-lived declaration of Catalan independence, plunging Spain into its biggest political crisis in decades.

While his case is ongoing, the General Court said, Junqueras’ request had no legal standing because under EU rules, the court could not force parliament to change its own procedures. It also had no power over Spanish courts in this instance because they were not directly involved in Junqueras’ demands of the assembly.

The European Parliament has rejected Junqueras’ demand for special measures to protect his immunity. It has also declared his seat vacant.

The dismissal of special measures is a setback for the Catalan separatist movement as it seeks to use any European rulings as a way to challenge Junqueras’ conviction in Spain.

Junqueras, the Catalan government’s former deputy leader, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison. The Spanish Supreme Court did not allow him to leave prison to take his oath on the Spanish constitution or travel to the first session of the European Parliament in July last year, after May elections.

Writing by Robin Emmott, Editing by William Maclean and John Stonestreet

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