First trial of exiled independence leader begins as Serret in court for disobedience
Current foreign minister left for Belgium after referendum but returned in March 2021
The first trial of an independence leader who has been in exile began on Wednesday as current Catalan foreign action minister Meritxell Serret is in the dock at Catalonia's High Court in Barcelona for events relating to the 2017 referendum deemed illegal by Spain.
The public prosecutor has requested a year-long disqualification from public office and a €12,000 fine for disobedience for Serret, who was the agriculture minister at the time of the vote. Unlike the other charges officials and activists have faced, disobedience does not entail prison time.
The left-wing pro-independence Esquerra Republicana politician left for Belgium not long after the referendum to avoid prosecution, but returned in March 2021, voluntarily appearing before Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena. Because she went to the court of her own accord, she was not arrested, as was the case of Junts MEP Clara Ponsatí on Tuesday.
Llarena, who oversees referendum-related proceedings, referred the case to Catalonia's High Court in Barcelona. This trial is expected to last a day and the outcome is not final as Serret will be able to appeal her sentence before the Supreme Court in Madrid.
Catalan republic a "legitimate project"
Moments before entering the courthouse, Meritxell Serret defended her position, calling the independence push a "legitimate project, and a project for the Catalan republic."
"I did what I had to do, give a response to a democratic mandate, a majority in Parliament, because organizing a referendum is no crime," she said to media outlets and demonstrators in front of the High Court.
Voting "not a crime"
Inside the court room, the foreign minister repeated that sentiment, saying that politicians in 2017 had to choose " between the parliament's mandate that urged us to organize the October 1 referendum and the injunctions we received from the Constitutional Court."
The referendum "was not a crime, voting is not a crime." she said during a 10-minute address to the judge, adding that holding a referendum "does not violate anyone's rights."
Serret characterized the conflict between Catalonia and Spain as a "political conflict with democratic roots," which experienced an "escalation" following Spain's Constitutional Court ruling against parts of Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy in 2010.
That ruling "disregarded the agreed path to improve self-rule, the legitimacy of the legislature and the Catalan language, the sovereignty of Catalonia, and the political way to resolve these issues," Serret said.
The conflict "can only be resolved through democratic and political negotiation," she said, criticizing that Spain "wanted to take it to court, wanted to criminalize it, went against resolving the conflict, and shut down the political pathway by preventing debate in parliament."
In conclusion, the former agriculture minister said that she wanted to be "loyal" to the parliamentary majority and the "democratic mandate."
"The pro-independence and republican project is legitimate. I have the right to defend it politically and achieve it democratically."
Pro-independence support for Serret
Around a hundred people gathered outside the courthouse on Wednesday morning to express their support for the foreign minister, including prominent politicians from her party, Junts per Catalunya, the hard-line pro-independence party that quit the Catalan coalition government last October, and far-left CUP.
Catalan president Pere Aragonès, for one, addressed the media, describing Meritxell Serret's trial as evidence of the "repression" against those in favor of Catalan independence that "continues despite the steps taken to dejudicialize the political conflict, affecting dozens of people still."
The secretary general of Junts who spent over three years in prison for sedition before being pardoned for his role in the referendum, Jordi Turull, argued that the Catalan High Court did not have the authority to try Serret as "it cannot guarantee justice for anyone in favor of independence."