Spanish court orders 25 Catalan leaders to stand trial in crackdown on separatists


March 24, 2018 08:03:26

Twenty-five Catalan leaders will be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state, Spain’s Supreme Court has ruled, in a sharp escalation of legal action against separatists in the north-eastern region.

Key points:

  • Twenty-five Catalan leaders to be tried for rebellion, embezzlement, disobeying the state
  • Left-republican ERC leader Marta Rovira said she had already fled Spain
  • Support for Catalan independence fluctuates either side of 40 per cent in polls

One of the leaders facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted, Marta Rovira, earlier said she had already fled Spain, joining six others in exile.

The ruling raised the stakes in Madrid’s efforts to contain separatists in Catalonia, where a banned referendum backed independence last year.

Rights groups have already criticised the extent of Madrid’s crackdown — though the European Union, wary of any splintering of its member states, has firmly supported the Spanish government’s response.

Catalonia has been in political limbo since Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took over its regional government after it unilaterally declared independence following the October plebiscite.

Supreme court judge Pablo Llarena said on Friday 13 leaders, including Ms Rovira and former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont — who is already in exile in Brussels — will be tried for rebellion.

Another 12 will be tried for embezzlement or disobeying the state through their role in holding the referendum or declaring independence.

Mr Puigdemont and fellow separatists have all denied any wrongdoing, saying the plebiscite gave them the authority to break away from Spain.

Judge yet to decide on ordering arrests

The vote was boycotted by Catalans opposed to the region splitting from Spain.

Public support for the independence of Catalonia, which has its own language, extensive devolved powers and an economy as large as Portugal’s, fluctuates either side of 40 per cent in polls.

Judge Llarena is yet to rule on whether there is enough evidence that they committed a crime to order their arrest.

He did not set a date for the trial.

Ms Rovira, the head of the separatist Esquerra Republicana party, said before the judge’s announcement on Friday she had fled to avoid prosecution.

“Exile will be a difficult road, but it is the only way I have to recover my political voice,” Ms Rovira said in a letter.

“Long live a Catalan Republic for all!”

The court, in a written ruling, requested that 14 members of the previous Catalan regional administration deposit 2.1 million euros ($3.36 million) in a bank account to pay back the money used to hold the referendum and cover judicial costs.

The court’s decision will likely put an end to a planned vote this Saturday at the Catalan regional parliament to pick a new leader after Mr Puigdemont’s departure last year.

Jordi Turull, one of the 13 charged with rebellion and a close Puigdemont ally, narrowly failed in an earlier leadership bid on Thursday to win a majority of votes in the Catalan parliament.

Several separatist leaders, including former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, have been in custody since last year.











First posted

March 24, 2018 08:02:02

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