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Trial of Catalan separatist leaders begins in Spain

Tuesday - February 12, 2019 6:20 pm , Category : WORLD
Madrid, Feb 12 (IANS) Twelve Catalan separatist leaders arrived at the Supreme Court here on Tuesday to stand trial over their alleged roles in the regional independence crisis that pitched Spain into its worst political turmoil for four decades.
If convicted, some could face up to 25 years in prison, the BBC reported. The Catalonia crisis is considered the most serious to hit Spain since the era of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who died in 1975.
The defendants face serious charges after having held an illegal regional referendum on October 1, 2017, that led them to trigger a bid to secede unilaterally from the rest of Spain, acts that went against the country's Constitution as well as numerous court rulings.
Spanish authorities declared the vote illegal that time and the national government imposed direct rule. The trial, dubbed the "most important since Spain's return to democracy" following Franco's death, is expected to last three months.
Nine of the defendants, including former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, former Speaker of the Catalan Parliament Carme Forcadell and two influential grassroots activists - Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez - are accused of rebellion, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years.
Other charges include sedition and the misuse of public funds. They have spent months in pre-trial detention and arrived at the court on Tuesday morning under guard. The remaining three had been free on bail.
Junqueras' superior - former President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont - fled abroad and remains in exile.
Proceedings will focus on the then Catalan government's decision to hold the referendum despite repeated warnings that it would violate the Constitution.
Junqueras's lawyer, Andreu Van den Eynde, told the court that prosecutors were trying to criminalise displays of freedom of expression and argued that the defendants had "the right to defend" the idea of self-determination, according to the Guardian.
Van den Eynde, representing former Catalan Foreign Minister Raül Romeva, said his clients' right to freedom of expression had been violated.
According to the Catalan government, about 2.3 million of Catalonia's 5.3 million registered voters took part in the referendum and about 90 per cent backed independence. The vote was largely boycotted by unionist Catalans.
On October 27, the Spanish government of the then Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy won senate backing to sack Puigdemont and his Cabinet and assume direct control of Catalonia.
The President of the Supreme Court, Carlos Lesmes, described the proceedings as "the most important trial that we've held since democracy (returned)". But Catalan President Quim Torra said that no crime had been committed by the defendants.

--IANS soni/ab