MADRID — Twelve Catalan separatists went on trial here Tuesday for staging a failed 2017 independence referendum that triggered a constitutional crisis and exposed rifts in a nation’s identity.
The historic trial is unprecedented in the history of modern Spain, which returned to democracy only in 1975 after the death of the right-wing dictator Francisco Franco. The trial of the Catalan separatists is the “most important” since then, Carlos Lesmes, the president of Spain’s Supreme Court, told reporters.
The 12 separatists — including Catalonia’s former vice president and other regional officials — stand accused of rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds. If convicted, they could face as much as 25 years in prison.
In October 2017, the 12 currently on trial staged an illegal independence referendum in open defiance of Madrid. Most polls at the time suggested that Catalans were evenly split on the question of secession, and the pro-independence parties had never been able to win a majority in the Catalan parliament.
Catalonia’s then-government went forward with the unilateral referendum, and, according to their results, 90 percent of those who voted supported independence. But only about 43 percent of Catalans participated, with most of those who supported Madrid boycotting the exercise.
Catalonia’s current government has appealed to the European Union — which supported Madrid during the 2017 referendum crisis — for clemency for the arrested officials. Even those who did not share the aim of regional independence saw it as a dangerous precedent for Spain and Europe.
“Although I am not an independence supporter, nor do I share many of the decisions of the previous Catalan government, I believe that this trial is a political fiasco, placing the space for dialogue and negotiation in danger,” Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau wrote in a letter to the leadership of the E.U. “If the trial ends in guilty verdicts and sentences, it will not help to reassess Catalonia’s position within Spain, but it will instead serve to exacerbate division.”
Barcelona mayor Ada Colau (C) and Catalan pro-independence mayors attend a gathering under the slogan “Freedom, Justice and Democracy” at the Barcelona city hall on February 10, 2019 ahead of the trial of jailed Catalan separatists next week in Madrid.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has also attempted to allay concerns in the E.U., going to Strasbourg last week to visit what the Spanish government called “the two institutions that best represent and guarantee human rights and democracy in Europe — the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.”
What has transpired since — largely on the Internet — is a “propaganda war” launched by Catalan activists who have attempted to portray the trial as evidence that the rule of law somehow no longer applies in Spain, said William Chislett, a political analyst at the El Cano Royal Institute, a Madrid-based think tank.
Spain’s central government has been on the defensive in recent weeks, writing off the outrage over the Catalan trial as a “disinformation campaign.” To that end, Madrid released a short video campaign in December titled …read more
Source:: Nationalpost – News