2019: A year in pictures

Trial and conviction of Catalan independence leaders dominated the news agenda in a year also marked by elections, protests and natural disasters

12 Catalan leaders sit in the dock in Spain's Supreme Court (by ACN)
12 Catalan leaders sit in the dock in Spain's Supreme Court (by ACN) / Neil Stokes

Neil Stokes | Barcelona

December 31, 2019 12:32 PM

For another 12 months, the past year in Catalonia was dominated by the ongoing political conflict with Spain. First and foremost came the trial of the Catalan leaders charged over the 2017 independence bid. Their conviction later in the year would spark protests and unrest around Catalonia, while the failure of the Spanish Socialists to get a clear victory in two general elections would force acting-president Pedro Sánchez to sit down for talks with Catalonia's main pro-independence party in congress. Meanwhile, the independence movement got a boost after a top EU court confirmed the parliamentary immunity of jailed leader Oriol Junqueras, which opened the way for exiled former president Carles Puigdemont to take up his seat in the European Parliament.

 12 Catalan leaders sit in the dock in Spain's Supreme Court (by ACN)

February 12: Catalan independence trial begins in Supreme Court

The much-anticipated trial of 12 Catalan independence leaders accused of rebellion and sedition for organizing the 2017 referendum finally began in Spain's Supreme Court. The high-profile trial of former government ministers and activist leaders was daily news at home and abroad, and would become a major rallying point for the independence movement, as well as a sticking point in the hopes for finding a negotiated solution to the Catalan crisis. 


Jailed Catalan leader Oriol Junqueras and Spain's acting president Pedro Sánchez shake hands in the Spanish congress (by ACN)

May 21: Jailed leaders attend congress as MPs

The Spanish general election at the end of April produced no clear majority in congress, continuing the political instability. However, five of the jailed Catalan leaders who had won seats in the election were briefly allowed out of prison in order to register as MPs in the chamber, only to be promptly suspended by the Supreme Court.

 Barcelona mayor Ada Colau (left) and ERC's local leader Ernest Maragall (by ACN)

May 26: Dual local and European elections

Voters were soon called back to the ballot boxes at the end of May for local and European elections. On the local level there was a general swing to the left, and although Ada Colau failed to win in Barcelona, eventual agreements saw her retain the mayorship of the Catalan capital. On the European level, jailed Catalan leader Oriol Junqueras won a seat in the European Parliament, as did exiled former president Carles Puigdemont and his former minister Toni Comín. All three, however, were prevented from taking up their seats.

 A wildfire in western Catalonia burns down over 5,000 hectares (by ACN)

June 26: Wildfire scorches over 5,000 hectares in southern Catalonia

Tragedy struck at the end of June when a wildfire raged for days in the Ribera d'Ebre county, in southern Catalonia, burning down over 5,000 hectares of woodland. The wildfire was one of the worst ever seen in Catalonia, and required the intervention of 120 different firefighting crews and aircraft to combat the flames, which spread through eight municipalities. 

 Spanish police arrest several pro-independence activists under terrorism charges (by ACN)

September 23: Pro-independence activists arrested on terrorism charges

In a year dominated by the Supreme Court trial of the Catalan referendum leaders, a Guardia Civil police operation at the end of September saw nine pro-independence activists arrested on terrorism charges, with seven being held in custody. The activists were members of the Committees in Defense of the Republic protest network, and they denied any involvement in planning violent acts.

 Spanish police arrest several pro-independence activists under terrorism charges (by ACN)

October 14: Sentencing of Catalan leaders sparks unrest

As the Supreme Court sentenced the 2017 referendum leaders to hefty prison terms of up to 13 years for sedition, Catalonia erupted with a wave of protests and disturbances on the streets. While the Tsunami Democràtic protest network called a demonstration that brought Barcelona airport to a standstill, protesters battled nightly with police on the streets of a number of towns, building burning barricades and throwing objects, while officers responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.

 Flash floods caure major damage in western Catalonia (by ACN)

October 22: Floods leave five dead and major damage

Torrential rain caused flash floods all over the country, but particularly in southern Catalonia, where five people would lose their lives. Particularly affected was the area around the Francolí river, which became the focus of a widespread search for the people who went missing during the downpours and who were all eventually confirmed as dead. 

 Manresa gang convicted of sexual abuse rather than rape (by ACN)

October 31: Sexual abuse rather than gang rape conviction causes outrage

With the infamous 'Manada' sexual abuse case still fresh in the memory, a decision by Barcelona's high court stirred up more outrage after it sentenced five young men to prison for sexually abusing a 14-year old girl in the city of Manresa in 2016, rather than sentencing them for gang rape. Feminist organizations went on to hold protests in over 40 Spanish cities against the verdict, under the the slogan ''it is not abuse, it is rape''.

 Pedro Sánchez celebrates his victory in the Spanish election at the Socialist party's headquarters in Madrid (by ACN)

November 10: Socialists win Spanish election again but struggle for support

After failing to find enough support in congress to form a government after the general election in April, Pedro Sánchez was forced to call another vote on November 10. The result of that election was also inconclusive, and while the Socialists repeated their victory, they were again forced to look for support. That led to a coalition agreement with the anti-austerity Podemos party, while Sánchez began talks with the Catalan pro-independence ERC party to persuade them to back his bid for the Spanish presidency.

 Rosalía wins five Latin Grammys

November 15: Rosalía wins five Latin Grammys

The meteoric rise of Catalan singer Rosalía continued when she bagged five Latin Grammys to add to her MTV awards. Yet, the 26-year-old music sensation from the Catalan town of Sant Esteve Sesrovires was not done for the year, as she was later nominated for two main Grammys, with the awards ceremony on January 26. Meanwhile, Rosalía performed before 30,000 fans in Barcelona in December, and became one of the main caricatures for this year's 'caganer' nativity figures.

 Catalan president Quim Torra sits at the dock (by ACN)

November 18: Catalan president convicted for disobedience with appeal pending

Catalan president Quim Torra's failure to remove symbols in support of the jailed Catalan leaders from the government HQ in the run-up to the April general election saw him end up in court charged with disobedience. Spain's high court in Catalonia decided he was guilty, which will see him barred from office and thus removed from his post should his upcoming appeal fail to get the decision overturned.

 MEPs holding signs with the faces of Catalan leaders Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras, and Toni Comín (by ACN)

December 19: EU court confirms Junqueras' immunity and opens door for Puigdemont as MEP

The European Court of Justice added a new twist to the ongoing political conflict between Catalonia and Spain by ruling that jailed leader Oriol Junqueras has immunity as an MEP-elect and should have been allowed out of prison to take up the seat he won in May's European election. While Spain's Supreme Court must now decide how to respond, the decision freed the way for exiled former president Carles Puigdemont, and his former minister Toni Comín, to take up their seats in the EU chamber.