Catalan politician Oriol Junqueras, centre, arrives at the Parliament of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. The imprisoned leader of the Catalan separatist ERC party Oriol Junqueras and five other former regional Cabinet members who pushed ahead with an illegal independence declaration for Catalonia in 2017 are brought out of prison for the first time to testify at a regional parliamentary committee. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

6 Catalan separatist prisoners return to regional parliament

January 28, 2020 - 3:47 am

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Six former members of Catalonia’s regional government have been escorted from prison to attend a hearing at the regional parliament in Barcelona.

Ex-regional vice-president Oriol Junqueras and five other former Cabinet members who are all serving sentences for attempting to secede from Spain were greeted on Tuesday with applause and cheers of “Liberty!” by a small crowd of supporters inside the parliament building.

They were were not handcuffed, and no uniformed guards were escorting them, although there were police deployed outside. Regional president Quim Torra and the speaker of the house greeted them with hugs and warm handshakes on arrival.

This is the first time that the six have returned to the Catalan parliament since they were taken into custody following the failed October 2017 independence bid. They and three more colleagues were convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds in October by Spain's Supreme Court and given sentences of nine to 13 years.

They were summoned to the regional parliament to attend a committee session addressing the consequences of the central authorities' temporary takeover of the region's control at the height of the 2017 crisis.

Their return comes at a time when the separatist movement is struggling to maintain the unity of its three main political parties.

The secessionist movement in the Catalonia region of 7.5 million has provoked Spain’s gravest political challenge in decades. Polls show residents in Catalonia are roughly evenly divided over the question of independence from Spain.

Spain’s constitution rules that the country is indivisible.

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