Nine Catalan politicians and activists have been sentenced to up to 13 years in prison by Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday (14 October), for their involvement in a banned referendum in 2017, amid strong reactions from separatists.
Ahead of the general elections on 10 November, analysts predict that the volatile political situation in Catalonia following the developments is likely to have an impact on voters, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
The separatist camp took to the streets of Barcelona and other cities protesting against the Court’s ruling, saying it was “unfair” and “undemocratic”.
The first official reaction on Monday came from Quim Torra, President of the Catalan regional government (Generalitat), who said the Catalan regional government urgently “demands amnesty” for all people sentenced, something acting socialist PM Pedro Sánchez fully rejected.
“Prison and punishment can’t solve anything […] this verdict is the heritage of dictatorship, not a distinctive feature of a democracy”, Torra said. The “Generalitat” is considering to submit a claim before the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg.
“We’ll move forward towards a ‘Catalan (independent) Republic”, Torra said. The Catalan president added that he would send a letter to acting socialist PM Pedro Sánchez as well as King Felipe VI, asking for their mediation to free all of the sentenced.
In a statement before the press on Monday, both in Spanish and English, Sánchez recalled that Spain is “one of the best democracies worldwide”, a system that fully respects decisions from the Judiciary, he said.
“Nobody is judged (In Spain) for his or her ideas, but for (his or her) crimes […] all citizens are equal before the law”, Sánchez added.
Meanwhile, the leader of the conservative opposition Popular Party, Pablo Casado, said: “Whoever does the crime does the time.” Albert Rivera, the leader of liberal-centrist Ciudadanos (Citizens), commented: “I know many think this sentence is not enough, but the important thing is that Justice has been done”.
“Vengeance” from the Spanish state?
However, in a letter to members of his left-wing separatists ERC party, Oriol Junqueras (sentenced to 13 years) accused the Spanish state of being driven by “vengeance.”
“More than ever, independence is a necessity in order to live in a society that is more free, just and democratic.”
Carles Puigdemont, who was regional president of Catalonia at the time of the referendum and is evading the same charges as his former colleagues (fleeing to Belgium), said: “100 years in prison in total. An outrage.”
“Now, more than ever, I am at your side and that of your families. It’s time to react like never before. For the future of our children. For democracy. For Europe. For Catalonia.”
Just a few hours after the sentence was made public, Judge Pablo Llarena decided to issue a new European Arrest Warrant against Puigdemont.
Legal sources have confirmed to EFE that the judge, who has been in charge of the process, has decided to reactivate the EU mechanism to request the extradition of Puigdemont.
Official video to portrait Spain as a “democratic model”
Hours ahead of the sentence, the Spanish government released a video message with the interventions of several ministers, in which they present Spain, in English, as an example of modernity and of a strong democracy, under the motto #EverybodysLand
Junqueras, the former deputy leader of the regional Catalan government, was found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds and sentenced to 13 years. He was also banned from holding public office for another 13 years.
Former Catalan foreign affairs minister Raül Romeva, ex-councilor Jordi Turull and ex-labour minister Dolors Bossa were sentenced to 12 years for the same charges and banned from public office for the same amount of time.
Former speaker of the regional Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 11 years and six months while former Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn and former lawmaker Josep Rull were handed a sentence of 10 years and six months.
Grassroots activists Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart were sentenced to nine years in prison.
Politicians Santiago Vila, Meritxell Borràs and Carles Mundó have been convicted of an offence of disobedience and ordered to pay a fine.
Court ruled out charges of rebellion
The judgment acquits the defendants Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull, Santiago Vila, Meritxell Borràs and Carles Mundó of the offense of misuse of public funds.
“The Court finds that violence was proved to have been present. But, while violence indisputably occurred, this is not enough for the offence of rebellion to be made out,” a court statement read.
The convicted politicians and activists were found guilty of staging an unauthorized referendum on Catalan independence on 1 October 2017.
The illegal ballot brought Spain to the brink of a constitutional crisis. In response, the government at the time triggered a constitutional article to sack the regional Catalan government, dissolved parliament and opened the path for legal proceedings against the accused.
Spain’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest judicial rung, had ruled the referendum unconstitutional.
A Supreme Court press release on Monday said: “All the defendants were aware that a referendum for self-determination, which was held out as the means for the construction of the Republic of Catalonia, was clearly not legally viable.
“The imaginary right of self-determination was a device concealing the political and associational leaders’ desire to pressure the national Government to negotiate a plebiscite.”
[Edited by Samuel Stolton]