Protests and tight security as Catalan separatists face hefty jail terms in Spain’s ‘trial of the century’

Passions run high outside court as politicians face charges of rebellion over region’s illegal independence referendum

Twelve Catalan separatists have appeared in court to face sedition charges carrying sentences of up to 25 years in prison in what Spanish media are calling the trial of the century.

Madrid’s Supreme Court was locked down by security officials as small but highly vociferous protests took place outside, both for and against the separatist leaders who are accused of crimes linked to their role in the region’s illegal independence referendum in 2017.

Police lined streets outside the plush neo-Georgian square where the court is based, as a group of some 100 pro-Catalan protesters hurled slogans in support of those on trial. Some protesters held up posters quoting Thomas Jefferson, saying (in Spanish): “When the law is unjust, rebellion becomes an obligation.”

The night before the trial an unknown individual projected giant TV pictures of Spanish police charging demonstrators during the 2017 referendum onto the facade of the court building, under the title “Spanish democracy”.

Then, at exactly 10am, when the trial started, supporters of the far-right Falange movement unfurled a giant poster with caricatures of the 12 separatists as devils. Others yelled “Golpista!” [Coup plotter!] as Catalonia’s current leader, Quim Torra, entered the building to support those on trial.

“This is a trial against everybody’s civil rights, anybody who thinks this is only against the pro-independence movement is mistaken,” claimed Gabriel Rufian, an outspoken MP for the Catalan Republican Left, as police hustled a small group of separatists away.

“All we should ask is, ‘Who’s going to be next?’”

Mr Rufian’s party leader, former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, was one of the 12 inside the court. Mr Junqueras faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

In the trial’s opening session, largely given over to procedural and technical questions, some political issues were nonetheless raised.

Mr Junqueras’s lawyer, Andreu Van den Eynde, claimed defendants had the right to seek self-determination and said that “practically all” their rights had been ignored.

“Mr Junqueras has been removed from the political arena,” Mr Van den Eynde said. Other defence lawyers questioned the impartiality of the judges in the case.

Some 600 witnesses are expected to testify, amongst them former Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, as the trial unfolds over the next three months. The Spanish government is anxious to show the trial is being fairly conducted, and it will be broadcast live on TV in its entirety.

The best-known separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, is not on trial, having fled after Catalonia’s failed declaration of independence, but his image looked down from posters featuring a picture of a chicken – a sarcastic reference to his current self-imposed exile in Germany – which appeared on walls near the court.

Protests against the trial have been going on in Catalonia all day, with activists using burning tyres to blockade its main motorway, the AP-7. A general strike is planned for 21 February.

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