The speaker of the Catalan parliament denied in court today (16 December) she had committed a crime by letting the assembly vote on whether to pursue independence, and said no court could stop the separatist movement.
Hundreds of supporters massed outside the Barcelona court to protest against the trial of speaker Carme Forcadell on charges of contempt of court and neglect of duty.
The parliament voted in July to continue with its plan to detach Catalonia from Spain, in defiance of a ruling by the Spanish Constitutional Court annulling an earlier resolution to form an independent state with or without Madrid’s consent.
Forcadell said she pleaded not guilty to the charges on the first day of her trial at the Catalan high court, which she entered after blowing a kiss to the cheering crowd.
“No court can prevent the parliament from debating the independence of Catalonia and above all what is in people’s interest,” she told reporters later, accusing the Spanish government of using the courts to quash freedom of expression.
The Constitutional Court on Wednesday (14 December) again ruled that the Catalan parliament’s plan to hold a referendum next September was unconstitutional, and warned Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to obey its ruling or also face criminal charges.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he is open to greater dialogue with Catalonia but has steadfastly opposed holding a referendum.
“The idea of Catalonia’s independence is not a crime or a sin, it is just an idea, and an idea can never be a crime,” Catalonia’s former leader, Artur Mas, told reporters outside the court.
“If the court bars her from office, the only result would be to add more fuel to this cause for sovereignty,” said Mas. He is also set to stand trial for holding a non-binding independence referendum in 2014, despite a Constitutional Court ruling that he must play no part in it.
In that vote, more than 80% of ballots cast called for Catalonia to separate from Spain, although less than half of the electorate turned out. Some 48% of Catalans supported secession in a poll in July.
The main secessionist group “Junts pel Si” (Together for Yes), backed by the smaller leftist CUP party, won a majority of seats in Catalonia’s parliament in a regional election in 2015. Puigdemont’s government won a confidence vote in September to push ahead with secession plans.