Catalan separatists face 25 years in prison over charges related to a 2017 independence referendum.
Residents of Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia face a tense summer waiting for a verdict in the trial of 12 separatist political leaders in relation to their failed 2017 bid to declare independence from Spain.
The four-month trial of the 12, which was held in Spain’s Supreme Court, adjourned in June.
Nine of the defendants, including the former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras, are charged with rebellion and could face up to 25 years in prison, on top of the roughly two years some have spent in pre-trial detention.
The remaining three face lesser charges of disobedience and misuse of public funds.
All the accused deny the charges and claim that holding a nonviolent referendum in a democracy should not be a crime.
The Supreme Court does not have a deadline by which it must deliver a verdict.
“It seems they can wait forever,” Andres Martinez said while having coffee in Barcelona’s trendy Gracia neighbourhood.
Residents of Catalonia, one of Spain’s strongest performing economic regions, have long complained of the Spanish national government’s use of its tax funds.
One foundation of the push for independence was Catalonia’s high tax rates, which many Catalans believed weren't reciprocated with proper funding from the state. This, along with the region’s separate language and culture, was often cited in the mainstream independence movement, until 2017.
The separatist regional government held a disputed referendum on secession that was met with a brutal crackdown by national police.
After a series of failed negotiation attempts, the Catalan government declared independence in October 2017. Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont fled to Brussels and many other politicians, including those on trial, were eventually arrested.
This coincided with a rise in the Spanish far-right, which hadn’t held political sway since the end of the fascist regime of former dictator Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 until 1975 and brutally oppressed Spain’s minority populations, such as the Basque and Catalans.
Vox, a far-right political party from southern Spain, used the Catalan independence movement to its advantage, promising a return to national rule and championing Spanish identity.
The party has further courted controversy by speaking warmly of Franco and pushing for bans on abortion.
Vox won 10 percent of the vote in national elections in April, marking the first time a far-right party held seats in the national legislature since Spain transitioned to democracy.
Martinez noted the inclusion of a Vox prosecutor at the trial of the 12. As an English teacher, Martinez admitted he wasn’t a legal expert.
However, he said he “doesn’t understand why Vox would even be allowed” at the trials.
Vox sent a co-accuser with the ability to interrogate to the nationally televised court proceedings, a move that many see as a bid to gain free publicity.
Spain’s legal system allows anyone to become a “people’s prosecutor”, and take part in court proceedings in trials such as that of the Catalan politicians.
Some witnesses, including Antonio Banos, a former member of the Catalan parliament for the far-left independent party CUP, refused to answer questions posed by Vox’s co-accuser.
Banos cited “democratic and anti-fascist dignity” in his refusal and faced a 2,500 euro fine, as witnesses are legally required to answer questions.
Members of the separatist civil society group the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) put forward a European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI), “a participatory democracy instrument” that called on the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, “to activate mechanisms for monitoring systemic risks for the rule of law” and respect of minority rights.
The EC declined to act on the ECI, saying it was outside its powers.
The ANC claims there is legal precedent and plans to take the case to the European Court of Justice, which it claims has ruled favourably for those requesting the EC take action in similar cases.
The ANC said in a statement that it and the Council for the Republic, a private organisation headed by deposed Catalan regional president Puigdemont, “deeply regret this decision” and plan to appeal, “especially taking into account that the basis of the dismissal is clearly incorrect."
The Spanish government did not immediately respond to TRT World’s request for comment.