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Spain: Catalan separatist leaders are convicted

  For them they are condemned martyrs: Catalan supporters of independence at a demonstration in Girona. (Photo: David Borrat / EPA)

For them, they are condemned martyrs: Catalan supporters of independence at a demonstration in Girona. (Image: David Borrat / EPA)

The Court announces the verdict against some of the most prominent leaders of the Catalan independence movement. What significance did the process have? And what consequences will the verdict have?

Samuel Misteli

Recent developments

  • The Spanish Supreme Court on Monday morning handed down the verdict against the Catalan separatist leaders. Nine of them are sentenced to nine to 13 years in prison for sedition. At the age of 13, the highest verdict was awarded to Catalonia's former Deputy Head of Government Oriol Junqueras. Three other former politicians were convicted of disobedience.
  • Judges did not convict the defendants of rebellion but of rebellion. If the court had seen the facts of the uprising met, the separatists would have threatened significantly higher prison sentences. The prosecution had required up to 25 years in prison.
  • Violent protests are now feared in Catalonia. Pro-independence supporters accuse the central state of wanting to set an example. They regard prisoners as political prisoners. Catalonia's Prime Minister Quim Torra has called for "massive mobilization". At the Barcelona airport and in the regions and ports, the number of security forces increased massively before the rally.
  Oriol Junqueras shot in May 2019. (Photo: Pablo Blazquez / Reuters)

Oriol Junqueras shot in May 2019. (Image: Pablo Blazquez / Reuters)

What was involved in the trial?

The trial of separatist leaders was the result of the unrest in October 2017. The Catalan regional government conducted an independent referendum on 1 October. The day went chaotic, in front of many polling stations there were tumultuous scenes. The Spanish police were then charged with excessive use of force. On October 27, the Catalan Parliament adopted a Declaration of Independence – after which Madrid placed the renegade province under host. Some of the independence leaders were arrested, others fled in exile, including then-Catalan Prime Minister Carles Puigdemont.

Among the twelve politicians and activists accused in the Supreme Court, almost the entire former cabinet was in Puigdemont. The most prominent accused was the former Deputy Head of Government Oriol Junqueras. The prosecutor accused the defendant of rebellion, rebellion, disobedience to court decisions and misuse of public funds. The prosecution required imprisonment of up to 25 years. Above all, the charge of rebellion was very controversial: He demands violence. The defendants had always spoken out for the non-violent struggle for independence. Their supporters accused the Spanish judiciary of trying to set an example. The weekend before the verdict, Spanish media reported that there would be convictions of rebellion, but not of revolt. They referred to sources around the court.

Why was the process so important?

The process, which lasted from February to June 2019, is considered one of the most important since Spain's return to democracy. The fact of the uprising has been used only once in 1975 in the application: in the trial of a group of officers who stormed the Spanish House of Representatives in 1981 with underwater weapons. The fact that the Catalan separatist leaders have also been accused of insurgency shows the extent to which the Spanish central state is associated with the Catalan independence movement.

The judicial procedure strained the already poisoned relations between Madrid and Barcelona. The Catalan separatists called the defendants "political prisoners". Their rhetoric was reinforced by the fact that the defendants had to remain in custody throughout the trial.

What consequences will the judgment have?

In Catalonia, supporters of the accused separatists called for mass demonstrations weeks before the verdict was sentenced. The regional government also took part in the vote: Chief Minister Quim Torra called a conviction as "the worst torpedo against living together."

The verdict and reaction in Catalonia will also affect the Spanish election campaign. On November 10, the Spanish vote for a new parliament – after the last spring elections, the victorious socialists failed to form a government. If there is the expected violent reaction in Catalonia, the major Spanish parties may exacerbate their rhetoric. The right-wing parties – Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and the right-wing Vox – still negotiate the issue of independence in disparate nationalist tones. Even before the verdict, the socialists, for fear of losing their constituents, had sharpened their rhetoric. For example, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez threatened with the application of Constitutional Article 155 – a possible mandatory administration of Catalonia.

The condemnation of the separatist leaders will also strain the disturbed Catalan-Spanish relationship in the medium term. For the separatists, they are condemned martyrs, their images will be common topics in future demonstrations.

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