Spain’s territorial crisis reignited on Monday, as the supreme court’s conviction of nine Catalan independence leaders for sedition triggered an angry response and chaotic scenes in the northeastern region.
After the court announced its verdict in the morning, pro-independence demonstrators gathered in Barcelona and other towns and cities throughout the day. Protesters blocked a number of road and rail links across the region and dozens of flights from Barcelona were cancelled in the evening as thousands of demonstrators converged on the city’s airport, many of them clashing with police there.
Of the 12 defendants who went on trial earlier this year, nine were found guilty of sedition for their role in the Catalan region’s failed bid for independence in October 2017, receiving jail sentences of between nine and 13 years. The highest sentence was for Oriol Junqueras, former vice-president of the Catalan region, who was also convicted of misusing public funds.
Mr Junqueras’s former colleagues in the Catalan government, Jordi Turull, Raül Romeva and Dolors Bassa, all received 12-year sentences, also for sedition and misuse of public funds.
All nine defendants were also suspended from public office for periods corresponding to their sentences.
“Nobody is above the law and we all have to obey it,” Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said in a statement to reporters, as he praised the efforts of the supreme court in making its findings.
‘Unjust and anti-democratic’
The judgment was widely condemned in Catalonia. “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.
Carles Puigdemont, Mr Torra’s predecessor as Catalan president, called the verdict an “atrocity”.
The court decision, and its potential impact, had been widely anticipated. The independence movement had warned of a social backlash should the verdict and any sentences turn out to be harsh and Spanish authorities responded by deploying about 2,000 police and civil guards to Catalonia from the rest of the country in the days leading up to the announcement.
The unrest is expected to continue in the coming days.