Spain rocked by rulings that renew questions over Catalonia

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Catalonia's former regional president Carles Puigdemont speaks with journalists as he leaves the Justice Palace in Brussels, Monday, Dec.16, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Walschaerts)

BRUSSELS – Spain was thrown into turmoil on Thursday by court rulings that could undermine Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s hopes of forming a new government and force fresh elections in the region of Catalonia.

In a potentially stinging reversal for Spanish justice authorities, the European Union’s top court ruled that a former Catalán official serving a prison sentence for his role in a banned independence referendum two years ago had the right to parliamentary immunity when he was on trial.

A court in Spain, meanwhile, found that Catalonia’s current president, Quim Torra, is unfit to hold office for 18 months for disobeying the country’s electoral board, a decision likely to lead to more elections in a region riven by protests.

Pro-separatist Catalán politicians applauded and shouted “freedom” after the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice ruled that former Catalán regional Vice-President Oriol Junqueras had earned the right to immunity when he was elected to the European Parliament in May.

The ECJ said that people like Junqueras who are elected as EU lawmakers “enjoy, from the moment the results are declared, the immunity” to travel to and take part in parliamentary sessions.

After the verdict, Junqueras, 50, tweeted: “Justice has come from Europe. Our rights and those of 2,000,000 citizens who voted for us have been violated. Annulment of the sentence and freedom for all! Persist as we have done!”

Junqueras was sentenced in October to 13 years in prison for sedition. Eleven of his associates were found guilty and eight of them also received prison terms.

He was in pretrial detention when he was declared to have won the European Parliament seat. But Spain’s Supreme Court refused to allow him to leave prison to take an oath to respect the Spanish Constitution, a national requirement for politicians to serve as EU lawmakers