The use of violence in Catalonia’s bid to hold an illegal separatist referendum and whether the central government’s response to the secessionist effort was proportionate formed the core of legal arguments at a court case where pro-independence leaders were on trial in Madrid on Wednesday for their roles in attempting to wrest the prosperous northeastern region away from the rest of Spain.
It was the prosecutors’ turn to lay out their cases in the plush surroundings of the Supreme Court against the leaders, whose lawyers argued that the only use of violence had been meted out by Spain’s heavy-handed riot police who had tried to block a peaceful and democratic vote and that the leaders were really being tried for their ideas.
Supreme Court prosecutor Fidel Cadena said the purpose of the trial was not to punish a pro-independence ideology, but rather to castigate its "concerted plan" to use violence by forming "human shields" to protect referendum voters and to also conspire to use the Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra regional police force "as part of their separatist rebellion."
The idea, he said, was that the Mossos had also been instructed to act as a shield against riot police sent to Catalonia by the central government in Madrid.
Cadena refuted the arguments put forward the previous day by the defendants’ lawyers that trial was all about persecuting the right to express an ideology of freedom and independence.
He added that the use of violence had been planned from the beginning by the referendum's organizers so as to force through a road map that inevitably led to a unilateral declaration of independence whose purpose was “to achieve a disconnection from the State" at the very last minute.
Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza then stepped in to add that the forces of law and order had not acted violently while trying to police a referendum that had been ruled illegal by Spain’s judiciary.
He said that contrary to media reports, only two people were seriously injured by police action and that, in any case, there was a legitimate case to employ proportionate police force.
He rebutted that the deployment of riot police was the equivalent to torture and was “a blunder of important dimensions,” as had been argued by the defense the previous day.
Spain's Constitutional Court, the country’s highest rung of the judiciary, had declared the Catalan referendum illegal and the central government in Madrid mobilized riot police to try to block access to voting booths.
Many media reports described and showed images of how hundreds of people had been injured as police tried to stop people from reaching voting booths.
Zaragoza denied the Spanish state had been involved in a systematic violation of fundamental rights as the defense lawyers claimed.
While Zaragoza acknowledged that while some injuries had been caused, he said only two persons were admitted to the hospital for more than one day and one of those had been injured “after throwing a fence" at the police.
More than 600 journalists from over 170 different international media have been accredited to cover the trial, a legal milestone due to last at least three months which Spain’s media has labeled as the trial of the century because it has taken such a high political significance.
Meanwhile, in the prosperous northeastern region, 70.3 percent of Catalans consider that it is unfair that their pro-independence leaders should be either in jail or in exile, a survey by the regional pollster Centro de Estudios de Opinión de la Generalitat (Center for Opinion Studies, CEO) suggested Wednesday.
The survey was based on 1,200 face-to-face interviews conducted between Oct. 22-Nov. 13, 2018, while the defendants were still awaiting trial.
By Harold Heckle