Spain: Catalan separatists’ trial begins amid tensions

The trial of 12 Catalan secessionist leaders involved in an attempt to secede from Spain gets underway in the country’s Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The trial has re-ignited tensions over the future of Catalonia. Hundreds of police, including from anti-terrorism units, have been deployed around the Court building in Madrid.
Catalonia declared independence from Spain in October 2017 following a referendum that had been carried out in defiance of a court ban. The declaration sparked Spain’s worst political crisis since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Serious charges

The defendants are facing charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, charges which carry a jail term of up to 25 years.

Nine of the accused have been jailed without bail since late 2017 and early 2018, including former Catalan vice president and regional economy minister Oriol Junqueras and former speaker of the Catalan regional parliament Carme Forcadell, who read out the declaration of independence in the assembly.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium days after the independence declaration, is not among the defendants. Spain does not try suspects in absentia for major offences.

‘Politically motivated’ trial

Catalan separatists have rejected the trial as a politically motivated “farce.”

“The world is looking at Madrid … what they want is not to judge but to condemn on political reasons,” Olivier Peter, a lawyer for one of the accused, told reporters on Monday.

Pro-independence Catalan leader Quim Torra, who will attend the opening session of the trial, called for the acquittal of the defendants.

Secessionists have called on Catalans to briefly stop work at midday on Tuesday in protest against the trial, and to join a
rally in Barcelona in the evening. Another major demonstration is planned for the weekend.

The trial is expected to last three months, with the verdicts delivered several months later.

ap/jm (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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  • Representatives in the Catalan parliament watch an opposition lawmaker leave

    Catalonia declares independence from Spain

    The declaration

    As the world watched, Catalonia’s parliament voted 70 to 10 for the region to declare its independence from Spain. “Our legitimate parliament has taken a very important step. This is the people’s mandate,” Puigdemont said after the decision. Dozens of opposition lawmakers from the Socialist Party, Citizens Party and Popular Party had walked out of the parliament chamber to boycott the vote.

  • Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

    Catalonia declares independence from Spain

    The despair

    Within an hour of the Catalan vote, the Spanish Senate in Madrid passed a bill to trigger Article 155 of the Spanish constitution. The measure will allow the central government to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would sack Catalonia’s government and set new regional elections for December 21.

  • EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

    Catalonia declares independence from Spain

    The dismissal

    European leaders were quick to condemn the independence declaration. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the Union “doesn’t need any more cracks,” while EU Council President Donald Tusk said Madrid “remains our only interlocutor.” Leaders in Germany, France, Italy and the UK voiced their support for Madrid. The US also chimed in, saying “Catalonia is an integral part of Spain.”

  • A woman is surrounded by Spanish police on October 1 during the Catalan independence referendum.

    Catalonia declares independence from Spain

    The dispute

    Barcelona and Madrid had been in a standoff since 93 percent of voters opted for Catalan independence in an October 1 referendum marred by police violence. Spain said the poll was illegal and stressed the low voter turnout of 43 percent. It subsequently threatened to suspend the region’s autonomy if Catalan leaders did not stop their drive for independence.

  • Catalan President Carles Puigdemont speaks to reporters on October 26

    Catalonia declares independence from Spain

    The defiance

    Many had expected tensions to ease on October 26 when Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was expected to call snap elections to bow to a key Spanish government demand. But Puigdemont refused, saying that he did not have enough “guarantees” from Madrid. Instead, he called on the Catalan parliament to decide on how to respond to Spain’s threat to suspend the region’s autonomy.

  • Supports of independence protest outside of the Cataln parliament in Barcelona.

    Catalonia declares independence from Spain

    The dream

    Tens of thousands of pro-independence protesters had taken to the streets of Barcelona ahead of the independence declaration to demand the region’s secession and the release of two leaders of pro-independence organizations, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez. Independence has divided Catalonia. Many who supported continued unity with Spain refused to vote in the October 1 referendum.

  • Supporters of independence rejoice outside of the Catalan parliament in Spain

    Catalonia declares independence from Spain

    The delight

    The pro-independence crowds outside the Catalan parliament immediately rejoiced after hearing the independence declaration. Many people were draped in the “Estelada” flag associated with Catalan independence. Some reportedly called for the Spanish flag to be removed from the Catalan government palace as regional lawmakers arrived from the parliament. (Author: Alexander Pearson)

    Author: Alexander Pearson

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