Twelve Catalan secessionists stand trial in Madrid
Twelve Catalan separatist leaders are being judged by Spain's Supreme Court on Tuesday and face up to 25 years in prison for their roles in leading the failed secession drive.
According to some observers, the trial could rob Spain’s governing party of the support of nationalists in various regions, leading to the government's collapse and usher in early elections, possibly for as soon as April
The Catalan region's former vice-president Oriol Junqueras and 11 other pro-secession politicians and activists face charges of rebellion, sedition, civil disobedience and misappropriation of public monies.
They were detained in connection with the 2017 secession referendum, which had already been promptly declared unconstitutional by Spain’s constitutional court, and follow-up breakaway attempt via an impromptu unilateral declaration of independence that ended with the temporary suspension of the region’s autonomy.
Andreu Van den Eynde, Junqueras’ lawyer, said: “This case is criminalising activities of freedom of speech — it mentions speeches, articles, conferences, putting a vote in a polling box, songs, shouts. This is what is being judged.”
Spain's current president Pedro Sánchez came to power after the country's Congress backed a no-confidence against the previous Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, thanks to the support of nationalist parties in the Basque region and Catalonia.
But more recently, Sanchez has refused to open the door to talks that might lead to a referendum on independence in Catalonia.
Sánchez claims that the past referendum was unconstitutional and points to polls showing that over half of Catalans do not want independence, although many do want greater autonomy.
Hence separatist parties' threat to vote against the government's proposed 2019 budget on Wednesday, which some believe may force the government's hand and lead to fresh general elections.
Catalonia's ex-President-at-large, Carles Puigdemont, who fled into self-imposed exile in Belgium, took to social media platform Twitter on Tuesday to show his support, tweeting: "Standing, firm, serene and worthy. Judging is not an act of justice, and you know it. We will eventually unmask the assembly that tries to silence and frighten us."