Spain braced for verdict in Catalan separatists' trial

Spain's Supreme Court is expected to issue a verdict in the trial of Catalan separatist leaders over their role in an independence referendum in 2017

2018 protests
2018 protests

Spain's Supreme Court is expected to issue a verdict in the trial of Catalan separatist leaders over their role in an independence referendum in 2017.

Spain has deployed more police in Catalonia, amid fears that a guilty ruling could spark more protests in the wealthy north-eastern region.

The 12 politicians and activists face charges ranging from rebellion to sedition and misuse of public funds.

They all deny the charges. Nine of them could face jail sentences.

Separatists in Catalonia are planning mass civil disobedience if they are not acquitted.

There were clashes between police and protesters two years ago when Catalonia's pro-independence leaders went ahead with a referendum ruled illegal by Spain's constitutional court.

During closing arguments in June, defence lawyers told the court their clients denied the charges of rebellion and sedition, but admitted to the lesser charge of disobedience, which could have seen them banned from public office - but avoid prison.

While the court is said to have ruled out convicting the 12 of the most serious charge of rebellion, the possibility of prison terms remains. The lesser charge of sedition, which does not involve encouraging violence, can still result in up to 12 years in jail.

Some of the accused held prominent positions in Catalonia's government and parliament, others were influential activists and cultural advocates.

Following four months of hearings, the 12 defendants were each given 15 minutes to present their arguments to prosecutors on the final day of the trial on 12 June.

They told the court in Madrid that they were victims of injustice in a trial built on "false" charges.

Nine of the defendants have already spent months in pre-trial detention. The remaining three were released on bail.

Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan president, escaped trial after fleeing Spain in late October 2017 before he could be arrested, along with four others.

Prosecutors argued that the unilateral declaration of independence was an attack on the Spanish state and accused some of those involved of a serious act of rebellion.

Defendants also faced the accusation of misuse of public funds in organising the 2017 referendum.

Prosecutors say the leaders carried out a "perfectly planned strategy... to break the constitutional order and obtain the independence of Catalonia" illegally.

Forcadell, the former parliament speaker who read out the independence result on 27 October 2017, was also accused of allowing parliamentary debates on independence despite warnings from Spain's Constitutional Court.

Some of the accused, speaking to the BBC ahead of the trial, said the proceedings were political in nature. Any violence, they said, was on the part of the police and was committed against voters in a crackdown which made headlines around the world.

Three weeks after the banned 2017 vote, the Catalan parliament declared an independent republic.

Madrid stepped in to impose its rule on the region, and several Catalan leaders fled or were arrested.

Catalan nationalists have long complained that their region, which has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years, sends too much money to poorer parts of Spain, as taxes are controlled by Madrid.

The wealthy region is home to about 7.5 million people, with their own language, parliament, flag and anthem.

In September, a march in Barcelona in support of Catalonia's independence from Spain drew crowds of about 600,000 people - one of the lowest turnouts in the eight-year history of the annual rally.

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