Spain’s media, judiciary and public braced on Monday for what is being touted as the trial of the century in which Catalan separatist leaders who are facing serious charges after having held an illegal regional referendum and spearheaded a bid to secede unilaterally from the rest of the country is set to begin on the following morning.
At the heart of the case, to be tried in the Madrid-based Supreme Court, is the 2017 referendum, where 90 percent of the 2.25 million people who took part (around 43 percent of the region's 5.3 registered voters) backed a bid to split from Spain while nearly 8 percent rejected independence. Many opponents did not cast their ballots, left them blank or void, regional authorities said.
The court said in a statement on Feb. 1 that it was not going to give accreditations to national or international observers because all proceedings would be televised and made available on live streaming. "Everyone can observe the trial," the court said.
Given that Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia's former president who fled into exile in Belgium shortly after his ill-fated declaration of independence, is not going to be among the 12 defendants, the main protagonist will be Oriol Junqueras, the former regional vice president who opted to remain in Spain and has been held in pre-trial detention.
He faces up to 25 years in jail on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.
These are the main points of the trial you should know about:
There are 12 defendants, of which nine were members of the secessionist Catalan government and two are leading activists within the independence movement:
1. Oriol Junqueras, former vice president of the government. In prison.
2. Carme Forcadell, former speaker and president of the regional parliament. In prison.
3. Jordi Sànchez, former president of Catalan National Assembly (ANC) between May 2015-Nov. 2017 and lawmaker for the leading pro-independence Junts per Catalunya party led by Puigdemont. In prison.
4. Jordi Cuixart, president of Òmnium Cultural, a Barcelona-based Catalan organization originally set up in the 1960s to promote the Catalan language and culture. In prison.
5. Jordi Turull, former councilor of the regional presidency. In prison.
6. Joaquim Forn, former regional lawmaker in charge of interior. In prison.
7. Raül Romeva, former lawmaker in charge of foreign affairs. In prison.
8. Josep Rull, former lawmaker. In prison.
9. Dolors Bassa, former lawmaker in charge of labor and social affairs. In prison.
10. Carles Mundó, former lawmaker in charge of justice.
11. Santi Vila, former lawmaker in charge of business.
12. Meritxel Borrás, former lawmaker.
The defendants face trial for their alleged roles in the Catalan bid for independence and also for allegedly being in breach of numerous court rulings. Among these are their participation in approving regional legislation to secede from the State and for convening and holding an illegal referendum that led to a unilateral declaration of independence which had to be suspended by the Constitutional Court, the highest rung of Spain’s judiciary.
The charges include:
- Rebellion: The Prosecutor's Office accuses nine defendants currently in detention of rebellion: Junqueras (possible maximum sentence of 25 years), Forcadell, Sànchez, Cuixart and Turull (17) and the rest of former lawmakers (16 years).
- Sedition: Spain’s State Lawyer has added a charge of sedition against the nine, something that goes against the advice of the Public Prosecutor's Office: Junqueras (12 years), Forcadell (10), Sànchez, Cuixart and Turull (8) and the rest of the former lawmakers (11 and a half years).
- Misuse of public funds: This charge applies to all who took part in the regional government.
Violence is at the heart of the accusation of rebellion brought by the Prosecutor and the political party VOX, present in the trial because private individuals and organizations can also file charges. The allegations center on events linked to a demonstration outside the regional economy headquarters. Prosecutors are to argue that the defendants used citizen pressure as an "intimidating force."
The State Lawyer charges sedition not by violence but due to a "hostile attitude," while the defenses look set to argue the peaceful nature of the independence movement where the only violence that occurred in the streets was meted out by riot police.
The trial begins Tuesday at 10.00 local time and will be held from Tuesday to Thursday, although it is not ruled out that the court will authorize more days of the week depending on how the proceedings fare.
Initially, the intention is for the trial to end before scheduled regional and municipal elections are held in May, although doubts have been expressed by the defenses that this may be possible.
WHO ARE THE JUDGES?
Manuel Marchena, president of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, will be in charge as president of the tribunal that will also include six other judges: Ana María Ferrer, Andrés Martínez Arrieta, Jose Ramón Berdugo, Luciano Varela, Antonio del Moral and Andrés Palomo.
WHO ACCUSES THEM?
There are accusations from: the Prosecutor's Office with four prosecuting lawyers, one of them the ex-attorney general Consuelo Madrigal; the State’s Lawyers office represented by two lawyers, including the head of the criminal law department, María Seoane; and Vox, which has pressed a private prosecution.
WHO WILL NOT BE THERE?
Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile along with six other pro-independence leaders: former lawmakers Antoni Comin, Lluis Puig, Meritxel Serret and Clara Ponsati; the general secretary of the Catalan Republican Left party (ERC), Marta Rovira; and the former lawmaker of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), a left-wing pro-Catalan independence political party, Anna Gabriel.
WHO WILL TESTIFY?
More than 500 witnesses have been called to testify, some of them members of Spain’s former government such as then-Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy; his deputy, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and his finance minister, Cristóbal Montoro.
By Harold Heckle