Verdict due on politically charged Catalan court case

Social backlash and Madrid clampdown expected as leaks suggest tough jail sentences

 Catalan pro-independence protesters gather at the Plaza d’Espanya on the eve of the expected announcement of the sentence in the trial against imprisoned Catalan political leaders. Photograph: Alejandro Garcia

Catalan pro-independence protesters gather at the Plaza d’Espanya on the eve of the expected announcement of the sentence in the trial against imprisoned Catalan political leaders. Photograph: Alejandro Garcia

 

Spain’s supreme court is due to issue its verdict on the most politically charged legal case the country has seen in modern times, against 12 Catalan leaders over their region’s failed bid for independence in 2017.

The defendants are pro-independence politicians and rank-and-file figures who went on trial earlier this year accused of a range of crimes, including violent rebellion and sedition. The court is expected to announce the verdicts and any sentences on Monday, although that timing has not been officially confirmed.

Leaks from the supreme court suggest that several of the accused have been found guilty of serious crimes and face lengthy jail terms.

Among those awaiting the verdict is the former Catalan vice-president, Oriol Junqueras; the former speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell; and the leaders of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural secessionist organisations, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart.

They are among nine defendants, all of who are in preventive custody, who face charges of rebellion and sedition for their alleged role in an outlawed independence referendum in October 2017. That ballot was followed by a declaration of independence issued by the region’s parliament. The other three defendants face the less serious charges of disobedience and misusing public funds.

On Wednesday, Sànchez and Cuixart will have been in prison for exactly two years and the supreme court is keen to announce its findings before then in order to avoid having to request an extension of their custody arrangement. Also, it would prefer not to announce the verdict on Tuesday, the anniversary of the execution of Catalan nationalist hero Lluís Companys by the forces of dictator Gen Francisco Franco in 1940.

‘Shockingly harsh’

Sources close to Cuixart said they believed the verdicts and sentences “will be shockingly harsh” and used as “a lesson to the Catalan people”.

Over the weekend, apparent details of the verdicts were leaked to the media. According to these reports, nine defendants will be found guilty of sedition, rather than rebellion, and will receive substantial jail sentences in some cases. The other three defendants are guilty of disobedience, for which they will be barred from public office and not jailed, according to the same reports.

The independence movement has cast the entire court case as an attempt by Spanish unionist forces to punish Catalan nationalism, rather than any crime. It has denounced the premise of the process as well as querying the credibility of the judiciary.

The Spanish government rejects such claims, insisting the legal process has full guarantees.

Irene Lozano, secretary of state for the foreign ministry’s Global Spain department, has been spearheading efforts to counter the independence movement’s criticisms. She said that the end of the supreme court process was a significant marker for her country’s democracy.

‘Spanish democracy’

“Spanish democracy has suffered an extraordinarily serious attack and it’s recovering from that,” she said. “For me it’s like what Nietzsche said: ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’ And Spain’s institutions will probably be strengthened by all this.”

Lozano also suggested that the end of this case could be a good time to “open the political door” in an effort to resolve the Catalan crisis through negotiation, although without discussing the holding of a Scotland-style referendum, as secessionists are demanding.

However, the defendants are likely to appeal against the verdict before the constitutional court and then the European Court of Human Rights, meaning the case could continue for months, or even years.

There is little likelihood of tensions between Catalonia and Madrid calming in the immediate wake of the verdicts if the leaked reports are correct.

Catalan president Quim Torra has warned that the supreme court’s decisions will be “a torpedo for co-existence” in Catalonia. He has called on Catalans to exercise civil disobedience in their protests and a wave of demonstrations is being prepared.

Nearly 2,000 police have been deployed to Catalonia from the rest of Spain in order to manage a potential backlash. As concerns about possible unrest have mounted, the Socialist Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez has made clear it would be willing to use the National Security Law, allowing it to take command of the Catalan regional police force, or even to reapply direct rule, which was in place for several months in Catalonia until the middle of 2018.

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