How prosecution justifies rebellion charges – and how defense might refute them

Civil disobedience, peaceful means, calls for dialogue, lack of dialogue from Madrid, among arguments set to be used by jailed leaders' lawyers

Defense lawyers (right) in Spain's Supreme Court (by EFE)
Defense lawyers (right) in Spain's Supreme Court (by EFE) / ACN

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

June 4, 2019 04:45 PM

Spain's public prosecutor is requesting prison sentences totalling 177 years for the 12 pro-independence politicians and activists in the dock at the Supreme Court, accusing most of them of rebellion, misuse of public funds, and disobedience.

On Tuesday, four members from the prosecutor's office gave their justifications for charging the defendants with rebellion, an offense that has only been enacted once in recent history, against some army officials who attempted a failed coup d'etat in 1981.

What are the arguments they used? And how might the defenses try to refute them on June 11 when they give their closing arguments?

Coup d'etat vs symbolic declaration

The public attorneys branded the 2017 independence push "a coup d'etat" and an "uprising," claiming that the aim of the movement was to "revoke, suspend or modify the Spanish Constitution."

"It was an act against the constitutional order, and not against the public order."

One of them even said that on October 27, 2017, the day the Catalan parliament declared independence, Spain's legal framework was in effect revoked and replaced by another.

Although the prosecution disregarded the fact that the declaration was never published in Catalonia's official gazette, this is something the defenses are very likely to emphasize – the text of the declaration never came into force and the cabinet did not take any measures to execute independence as provided in the legal text. They claim the move was symbolic.

Attacks against Constitution vs civil disobedience

During the prosecutors' speeches, the main issue revolved around the alleged serious attacks on the Spanish Constitution.

Indeed they mentioned the several warnings issued by the Constitutional Court ahead of the events in autumn 2017 to former ministers and the former parliament speaker, which they allege were ignored.

This means it cannot be ruled out that some defenses implicitly accept the disobedience charges – some defendants mentioned the concept of 'civil disobedience' as an argument.

However, under Spanish law, disobedience offenses carry no prison sentences.

Violent vs peaceful resistance

Spain's criminal code rules that rebellion charges need to include accusations of violence.

The public prosecutors used the witness testimony from dozens of Spanish police officers to argue that 2017 referendum voters weren't peaceful. And they also tried to prove that the officials in the dock were behind this alleged violence.

For instance, they mentioned visits by some politicians to the polling stations to support the voters staying overnight in the hours ahead of the vote, or the fact that activists Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez stood on a police vehicle during a key protest in September 2017.

Yet the defenses might allege that both the activists were standing there in order to call off the protest – and to call for peaceful conduct during the demo.

In fact, both politicians and activists insisted at all times during the independence push that all protests had to be non-violent, and they also called for "peaceful resistance" during the referendum.

This, and the violent conduct displayed by the Spanish police, which has been called "disproportionate," will be among the arguments the defense will use to refute the allegations.

Junqueras: main driver of rebellion vs defender of dialogue

One of the key figures in the proceedings is Oriol Junqueras, the former Catalan vice president and the highest-ranking official being tried, in former president Puigdemont's absence.

The public prosecutor claimed that "Junqueras was the main driver of the rebellion."

They also accused him of "cynicism" for having regretted the lack of dialogue with the Madrid government before the referendum, something he emphasized in his cross-examination during the trial.

Yet taking into account that the top Catalan officials insisted on dialogue until the last moment before the declaration of independence, with no response to their offers from Madrid, might be another argument the defenses will use next week.

Misuse of funds vs no public money spent on referendum

The prosecutors conclude that the Catalan government embezzled three million euros to pay for the referendum and this, they say, makes the rebellion charges against nine of the 12 leaders more serious.

Yet no public servant or government official in 2017, or businessperson linked to the referendum, acknowledged spending or receiving public money during the preparations for the vote, something that is also likely to be brought up by the defense.

Fair trial vs political trial and political prisoners

The attorneys stated that the number of witnesses and experts taking the stand during the proceedings show that this has been a fair trial.

They also denied the suggestion that the nine politicians and activists in preventive detention are political prisoners, and disregarded the UN's calls to release three leaders.

After the prosecutors' remarks, some defense lawyers talked to the press, calling the speeches "political," suggesting that this confirms their claims that it is a political trial.

They also said the prosecution's closing arguments showed "a poor legal basis and a poor basis of evidence."