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  • A pro-independence Catalan holds a sign reading "freedom for all" during a protest in front of the EU Commission headquarters in Belgium, Feb. 12, 2019.

    A pro-independence Catalan holds a sign reading "freedom for all" during a protest in front of the EU Commission headquarters in Belgium, Feb. 12, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 February 2019

 Twelve Catalan pro-independence leaders went on trial in Madrid. The trial is politically charged which is expected to last at least three months. 

A dozen Catalan pro-independence leaders went on trial in Madrid Tuesday over their roles in an independence referendum that was brutally suppressed by the Spanish police.

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The defendants are facing charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. They are also faced with a combined total of roughly 200 years in prison if they are handed maximum sentences.

The leaders belong mostly from two political parties i.e., the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the centrist Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT).

Their names are Oriol Junqueras, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Sanchez, Jordi Cuixart, Carme Forcadell, Raul Romeva, Dolors Bassa, Carles Mundo, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Meritxell Borras, and Santi Vila.

Their supporters carried signs reading “Freedom for political prisoners.” A lawyer defending two of the leaders said they had the right to seek independence for their region. “They have the right to defend that idea. It (self-determination) is a synonym of peace, not of war,” Andreu Van den Eyndehe told the court.

Supporters of the defendants, who face up to 25 years in prison if convicted, say they are political prisoners and that the trial itself is political. None of the 12 are scheduled to speak on the first day of the trial, which is dominated by procedural issues. Nine of them have been jailed without bail since late 2017 or early 2018.

Meanwhile, seven other politicians involved in the independence declaration - including former leader Carles Puigdemont - are in self-imposed exile in different parts of Europe. In Berlin Tuesday, Puigdemont said the trial marked a stress test for Spain’s democracy

Olivier Peter, a lawyer for one of the leaders, said the world was looking at authorities in Madrid. “What they want is not to judge but to condemn (for) political reasons,” he told reporters Monday.

The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, a rights group, said the trial risked restricting rights and could set a precedent.


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