Spain’s trial of Catalan separatists begins

World Today

Former Catalan separatist leaders including (from front row R-L) Oriol Junqueras, Raul Romeva, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Sanchez, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Jordi Cuixart, Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Carles Mundo, Santi Vila and Meritxel Borras attend their trial at the Supreme Court in Madrid on February 12, 2019. – Twelve former Catalan leaders go on trial at Spain’s Supreme Court for their role in a failed 2017 bid to break away from Spain. (Photo by Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP)

In Spain, it was the opening of a major trial. 12 leaders of the Catalan independence movement are charged with sedition, rebellion and misappropriation of public funds. They face long prison terms if convicted. 

CGTN’s Al Goodman reports from Madrid.

Their unilateral independence drive in late 2017 was prohibited under Spain’s constitution. The defendants include Catalonia’s former vice president, in the first row, seated at right, and several of his aides.

Outside of court, the current leaders of Catalonia, who also want independence, show up to lend support.

“Today many people in Catalonia and I believe in other areas of the state feel great pain,” said Roger Torrent, the Catalan Parliament Speaker. “Pain to see these men and women seated in the dock. The only thing they have done is to bring ballot boxes to the Catalans to decide their future, a referendum.”

Most of the 12 defendants arrived at court in police vans. Some have been in pre-trial prison for more than a year. They claim to be political prisoners, which Spain denies, insisting they have full legal guarantees.

A few defendants free on bail, like this former Catalan official in the brown coat, arrived at court along with their lawyers. Reporters and members of the public lined up for a seat inside, to observe the highly anticipated trial.

The trial comes during a political storm in Spain. The Socialist government wants Parliament to approve its budget this week, but it needs the votes of Catalan pro-independence parties. But conservatives say the Socialists are caving in to separatist demands, which the Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, denies.

Tens of thousands of conservatives demonstrated in Madrid just two days ago, demanding new elections and the ousting of Sanchez.

Catalan separatism is now considered a top political issue in Spain. Many see the rise of a far-right party, Vox, as a result. It defends Spain’s unity, and the party is a plaintiff against the Catalans on trial.

“The separatists for a long time have been defying Spain’s unity and constitutional order,” said Santiago Abascal, the President of Vox. “ And they’ve done so due to the systematic inaction of successive Spanish governments.”

But not on trial is former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium when the Spanish government took temporary control of Catalonia. If he returned, he would face the same charges of rebellion and sedition as his colleagues.

The trial is expected to last three months, with 500 witnesses, including a former prime minister. The sentence is due in the summer.