THERE was fury in Catalonia yesterday after Spanish prosecutors said they wanted jail terms totalling 200 years for members of the Catalan government, grassroots leaders and officials who helped organise the October 2017 independence referendum.
The highest sentence they sought in the indictment was 25 years’ imprisonment for Oriol Junqueras, former Catalan vice-president and leader of the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC).
Spain has been unable to extradite former president Carles Puigdemont from Belgium and named Junqueras as the “principal leader” of the events of 1-O, as the referendum is known in Catalonia.
He, along with 11 other politicians, activists and civil servants, faces a charge of rebellion for using “the necessary violence to ensure the criminal outcome sought” – despite the only violence being that of Spain’s National Guard officers beating would-be voters with batons.
Four more officials in charge of the Catalan police, Mossos d’Esquadra, were also indicted, with prosecutors calling for an 11-year sentence for former chief Josep Lluis Trapero.
The indictment did not involve Puigdemont and other ex-ministers who have fled the country, including former education minister professor Clara Ponsati, pictured above, who nows lives in Scotland. Prosecutors demanded 17 years for Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, who at the time headed two pro-independence groups, and Carme Forcadell, who was the Catalan parliament’s speaker.
Reaction to the sentence demands was swift and damning. Human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson said the proposed sentences “show how profoundly unhinged the swivel-eyed hawks in the Spanish state have become on this issue”.
Describing the Spanish state as “repressive” Elisenda Paluzie, head of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) added: “The self-determination of a people is not a crime, it is a universal right.”
Last night protesters gathered outside Lledoners jail, near Barcelona, where most of the accused men are detained.
Scots lawyer Aamer Anwar told them Spanish police had failed the test of democracy on 1-O.
“They failed the people, they failed to uphold the rule of law,” he said. “Spain accused the politicians of criminal acts, but it can never be illegal under international law for a people to express their right to self-determination.”
Roger Torrent, Catalan parliament speaker pictured above, said organising a referendum was not a crime, and the public prosecutor “does not act with a yearning for justice, but rather a revenge for officials, senior officials, deputies, members of the government and the board and the president of the parliament of Catalonia”.
Quim Torra accused Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, of complicity: “The prosecutor’s office is criminalising the more than two million people who defended democracy with their own body in the first October.
“And … president Sánchez has decided not to act, which is the same as being an accomplice to repression.
“Today, the Spanish government has lost a golden opportunity to remove from the courts the conflict that is being experienced in Catalonia and return it to politics, which is where it should be.”
Puigdemont said: “Persecuting and condemning people for their peaceful political beliefs and actions crosses all the red lines in a democracy. Europe cannot allow itself to become a silent accomplice to this abuse.”
SNP MP Douglas Chapman, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia, added: “I think we are all trying hard to understand the Spanish legal system where charges of violence can be brought to court, yet where there is no available evidence of any violence perpetuated by those who are facing trial. The only violent acts that I could see on 1-O were carried out by the Spanish police who attacked innocent, unarmed men and women of all ages for peacefully voting in a citizen-led democratic process.