Catalan leaders handed jail terms by Spain’s Supreme Court

Spain’s Supreme Court has convicted 12 former Catalan politicians and activists for their roles in a secession bid in 2017.

The court sentenced former Catalan regional vice president Oriol Junqueras to 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds following one of Spain’s most important trials since democracy was restored after the death of dictator general Francisco Franco in 1975.

Eight received lengthy prison terms in Catalonia’s attempt to break away from Spain following an illegal independence referendum, while three received lesser sentences.

Anti Catalan independence demonstrators carry a Spanish flag as they march in Barcelona in 2017. Credit: AP

Although prosecutors had requested convictions for the more severe crime of rebellion, which under Spanish law implies the use of violence to subvert the constitutional order, judges convicted nine of sedition, implying they promoted public disorder to subvert the law.

Regional parliament speaker Carme Forcadell was given 11-and-a-half years in prison; former cabinet members Joaquim Forn and Josep Rull 10-and-a-half years each; and grassroots pro-independence activists Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart nine years.

Junqueras and three other former cabinet members – Raul Romeva, Jordi Turull and Dolors Bassa, who were sentenced to 12 years – were also convicted for misuse of public funds.

Catalan regional Vice-President, Oriol Junqueras, left, and Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont attend a pro-independence protest. Credit: AP

Three other former members of the Catalan Cabinet – Santiago Vila, Meritxell Borras y Carles Mundo — were fined for disobedience.

Grassroots pro-secession groups have said that if any of the defendants were found guilty they would organise protests and “peaceful civil disobedience”. Spanish authorities deployed hundreds of extra police to the region in anticipation of the ruling.

The court’s decision was another milestone in the long struggle for separatists who want Catalonia to break away from Spain and create a new European state. Spain insists it will not allow it. The Spanish constitution says the country is “indivisible”.

Pro-unity supporters in Catalonia came out to support the move for direct rule. Credit: AP

The separatist effort fell flat when it won no international recognition. The Spanish government stepped in and fired the Catalan regional government, with prosecutors later bringing charges.

At the centre of the prosecutors’ case was the October 1, 2017 referendum that the Catalan government held even though the country’s highest court had disallowed it.

The “Yes” vote won, but because it was an illegal ballot most voters did not turn out and the vote count was considered of dubious value. The Catalan Parliament, however, unilaterally declared independence three weeks later, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Seven separatist leaders allegedly involved in the events, including ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, fled the country and are regarded by Spain as fugitives.

Puigdemont tweeted on Monday: “A total of 100 year of prison. How horrible. Now more than ever, we will be with you and your families. For the future of our sons and daughters. For democracy. For Europe. For Catalonia.”

The trial featured over 500 witnesses, including former prime minister Mariano Rajoy, and 50 nationally televised hearings.

Defence lawyers argued the leaders of the secessionist movement were carrying out the will of roughly half of the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia who, opinion polls indicate, would like the region to be a separate country.