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Dublin: 0 °C Sunday 19 January, 2020

Catalan leaders charged with rebellion as Spain is gripped by 'trial of the century'

More than 600 journalists are accredited to a trial that is being broadcast on live TV.

Protestors gather outside the courthouse.
Protestors gather outside the courthouse.
Image: PA Images

CATALAN SEPARATIST LEADERS accused of rebellion for trying to make their region independent from Spain launched their defence today at the start of their long-awaited trial.

Sitting on benches in the ornate chamber of Madrid’s Supreme Court, the defendants faced a row of judges and a Spanish flag in proceedings broadcast live on television.

Twelve defendants are in the dock over an independence referendum, held on 1 October, 2017 in defiance a court ban, and a short-lived declaration of independence.

Nine of them are charged with rebellion and three face lesser charges of disobedience and misuse of public funds.

The independence bid sparked Spain’s deepest political crisis since the transition to democracy in the 1970s after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

“This case targets political dissidence,” said Andreu Van den Eynde, the lawyer of two defendants including Catalonia’s former vice president Oriol Junqueras, who faces up to 25 years in jail.

The lawyer accused authorities of violating the defendants’ fundamental rights.

In a politically-charged case, Spain has been forced to defend its judiciary against criticism of the proceedings against the Catalans.

Supreme Court President Carlos Lesmes alleged “a big smear campaign.”

Many Spaniards support the proceedings, shocked by the actions of Catalonia’s regional executive in October 2017.

Before the start of the trial, separatist officials demonstrated near the courthouse, holding a banner that read: “Deciding is not an offence”.

More than 600 journalists are accredited to cover the proceedings which have been described as Spain’s ‘trial of the century’

Separatists in Catalonia want to hold a referendum on the region’s future and have dismissed the trial as a politically-motivated “farce”.

Pro-independence protesters in the region briefly blocked several roads before dawn, setting fire to tyres and holding up traffic.

Protests have been called in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, at 7:00 pm local-time.

Puigdemont absent

Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s former president who fled to Belgium days after the independence declaration on 27 October, is not among the defendants.

Spain does not try suspects in absentia for major offences.

Speaking from Berlin, Puigdemont said the trial was a “stress test for Spanish democracy”.

He called on the international community for help, asking the European Union why it was more concerned with Venezuela than Madrid.

Source: FRANCE 24 English/YouTube

Controversy over rebellion

Controversy has swirled over the charge of rebellion.

Under Spanish law, rebellion is defined as “rising up in a violent and public manner”.

But opinion is divided over whether the independence bid was violent.

Prosecutors say the defendants “called on citizens to participate in the 1 October referendum knowing it was illegal and that explosions of violence could therefore take place”.

But supporters of independence deny the accusation of violence.

They accuse the police of brutality during the referendum. Pictures of officers seizing voters during raids on polling stations during the referendum were seen in media around the world.

Hundreds of witnesses have been called to testify, including former conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy who was in office at the time of the referendum.

The trial is scheduled to last three months, with verdicts expected several months afterwards.

© – AFP 2019 

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