Praise and condemnation as Catalan separatists given lengthy jail terms

Protesters take to streets to condemn Spanish court's `politically motivated' verdict

Protesters  at El Prat airport in Barcelona on Monday as thousands took to the streets after Spain’s supreme court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in jail for sedition over the failed 2017 independence bid. Photograph: Luis Gene/AFP via Getty Images

Protesters at El Prat airport in Barcelona on Monday as thousands took to the streets after Spain’s supreme court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in jail for sedition over the failed 2017 independence bid. Photograph: Luis Gene/AFP via Getty Images

 

The Spanish supreme court drew both praise and vilification on Monday with its verdict on the case of 12 Catalan politicians and rank-and-file leaders accused of leading their region’s failed attempt to break away from Spain two years ago.

The court found nine defendants guilty of sedition, giving them jail sentences of between nine and 13 years in a decision which has once again inflamed tensions in the northeastern region. The former Catalan vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, received a 13-year jail term.

The former speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, received a sentence of 11½ years; former regional ministers Joaquim Forn and Josep Rull received sentences of 10½ years; and rank-and-file leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart were jailed for nine years, all for sedition.

Another three accused avoided jail terms but were suspended from public office and fined for disobedience.

None of the defendants was found guilty of violent rebellion, which had been the most serious charge they faced.

Referendum

The supreme court tried the 12 between February and June of this year, and the charges dated back to the Catalan government’s organisation of a referendum on independence in October 2017 in defiance of court orders. Four weeks after that ballot, the Catalan parliament, controlled by pro-independence parties, issued a unilateral declaration of independence.

“In a democracy, nobody goes on trial for their ideas or for defending a particular political project, but rather for crimes included in our legal framework,” Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said, countering claims by the independence movement that the trial had been politically motivated.

Concerned at constant pro-independence efforts to cast doubt on the judiciary and the country’s institutions, the government had released a video ahead of the trial which sought to boost Spain’s democratic credentials.

But the Catalan government attacked the court’s findings.

“The Catalan government rejects this verdict as unjust and anti-democratic, for being a legal case against pro-independence ideology and Catalonia’s right to self-determination,” said the region’s president, Quim Torra.

Riot policemen clash with protestors outside El Prat airport in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP
Riot policemen clash with protestors outside El Prat airport in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

Warning that “Spanish democracy is losing all credibility”, Mr Torra wrote to both Mr Sánchez and King Felipe VI calling for meetings with both leaders in order to discuss the crisis. He also demanded an amnesty for those convicted, a possibility Mr Sánchez appeared to rule out by insisting that prison sentences should be served.

Self-imposed exile

Carles Puigdemont, Mr Torra’s predecessor as Catalan president who has been in self-imposed exile in Belgium since 2017, also lambasted the verdict. Speaking in Brussels, he said that “it confirms the strategy of repression and revenge against those who have sought the route of democracy.”

In Madrid, unionist politicians mostly responded positively to the verdict

Within hours of the verdict, supreme court magistrate Pablo Llarena reissued an international warrant for the arrest of Mr Puigdemont on the charge of sedition. Last year, the court failed to extradite him from Germany for rebellion. However, Mr Llarena believes that the nine convictions for sedition should ease Mr Puigdemont’s extradition on that same charge.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, unionist politicians mostly responded positively to the verdict.

The leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, said that the verdict “brings to an end an exemplary judicial process”.

Albert Rivera, leader of the Ciudadanos party, which has taken a stridently unionist approach to the Catalan issue, was slightly more equivocal, although he welcomed the ruling.

“Many people think this verdict is not enough,” he said. “I say to them that they are not alone [but] that justice has been done. Beyond the jail sentences the important thing is that justice should be done and that the sentences should be served.”