The unanswered questions of the Catalan trial as verdict looms

The upcoming verdict from the Supreme Court should shed light on a series of contested accusations

The 12 Catalan leaders accused in the independence trial sit at the dock in Spain's Supreme Court (by EFE)
The 12 Catalan leaders accused in the independence trial sit at the dock in Spain's Supreme Court (by EFE) / Alan Ruiz Terol

Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

October 11, 2019 11:17 AM

Two years ago, Catalonia—and to no lesser extent, Spain—underwent one of its most turbulent months in decades. Take note: a referendum on independence, held despite Spain’s opposition; the police operation that tried to stop it, injuring hundreds; a declaration of independence, and the subsequent suspension of Catalonia’s self-rule from Madrid; finally, the imprisonment and exile of pro-independence leaders.

Ever since then, Catalonia—and to no lesser extent, Spain—has been unable to turn the page on the month of October, 2017.

In the coming days, Spain's Supreme Court will issue its long-awaited verdict on the 12 politicians and activists held responsible for the 2017 independence push—at least those who didn’t go into exile

The verdict, which if guilty could carry lengthy prison terms for the accused, will certainly mark a turning point in the Catalan independence conflict. What comes next, time will soon tell.

After four months of hearings, the independence trial at the Supreme Court left many questions unanswered, and two irreconcilable narratives emerged explaining what happened in October 2017. 

What sentences will the accused get?

Out of the 12 Catalan leaders in the dock, nine have been held in pre-trial detention and are still behind bars to this day. Next Wednesday will mark two years since activists Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez became the first two pro-independence leaders to be sent to prison without bail.

The Supreme Court verdict could either put an end to the ongoing detentions, as lawyers demanded, or could extend them further, as proposed by prosecutors.

Spain’s attorney general requested sentences ranging from 7 to 25 years in prison, the longest one for Oriol Junqueras, the Catalan vice president at the time of the referendum, and the leader of the Esquerra (ERC) party.

While the solicitor general proposed prison sentences of up to 12 years, the far-right Vox party, acting as a private prosecutor, requested 74-year prison terms.

The charges proposed by the different prosecutors include rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience, and organized crime.

Was the independence bid peaceful or violent?

This is perhaps the most consequential dilemma Supreme Court judges faced while discussing the verdict. It’s also the most controversial.

In their final statements, prosecutors referred to the 2017 vote and the subsequent declaration of independence as a "coup d'état," in which the Catalan government resorted to violence in its plot to break away from Spain.

In contrast, the accused maintained that they always stayed true to the peaceful nature of the independence movement, and didn’t offer any resistance when Madrid sacked them from power and imposed direct rule.

With rebellion being the most serious accusation against the pro-independence leaders, the use of violence is an indispensable element to issue a conviction for such a crime. 

Catalan police: loyal to Spain or Catalan independence?

In the run-up to the referendum, a Catalan court ordered police to close down polling stations to prevent the vote from taking place, while maintaining the peace.

Catalonia’s own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, closed a number of voting places, but didn’t resort to force when pro-independence activists didn’t voluntarily leave polling stations. In contrast, Spanish police cracked down on voters, injuring more than a thousand, according to Catalan government figures.