Spain prosecutor seeks up to 25 years jail for Catalan leaders

Call by prosecution office before trial is followed by the state attorney asking for shorter sentences.

Catalonia protest April 15
The jailing of Catalan leaders has caused many in the restive region to accuse Spain of taking 'political prisoners' [Josep Lago/AFP]

Spanish prosecutors have called for former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras to be imprisoned for 25 years on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds, the highest prison term being sought for separatist leaders who pushed for the region’s independence last year.

In a statement in advance of an upcoming Supreme Court trial, the prosecution service on Friday said it was seeking fines or imprisonment for 22 politicians, activists and civil servants accused of organising the move to break away from Spain, including holding a banned referendum.

But in a sign that Spain’s socialist government disagreed, the attorney general’s office later announced it would ask for just 12 years in prison for Junqueras, accusing him of sedition and misuse of public funds rather than the more serious charge of rebellion.

“This is not an issue of gestures, it’s a judicial and technical issue of applying the law,” Justice Minister Dolores Delgado told reporters after the cabinet’s weekly meeting.

Asked whether the government planned to issue a pardon for Catalan leaders once they are sentenced, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo only said that it would be a measure that the Spanish constitution allows.

Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has lived in exile in Brussels for over a year [Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters]
Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has lived in exile in Brussels for over a year [Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters]

The sensitive trial is expected to start in early 2019 – more than a year after Catalan leaders attempted to break from Spain in October 2017 by staging the referendum despite a court ban and subsequently proclaiming independence.

Spain’s then conservative government moved swiftly to depose the Catalan executive, dissolve the regional parliament and call snap local elections in December.

Some Catalan leaders such as deposed regional President Carles Puigdemont fled abroad, while others like Junqueras remained and were put into custody pending the trial.

The central government in Madrid changed in June 2018, when current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez received support from anti-austerity and nationalist parties to depose Mariano Rajoy, whose right-wing People’s Party had ruled Spain since 2011.

Qim Torra, the current president of the regional Catalan government, on Friday said the Spanish government had missed a “golden opportunity” to move the conflict over Catalan secessionism from the courts to the realm of politics.

Sanchez had “decided not to act, which is the same as being complicit in oppression”, Torra said. 

Controversial charge

Apart from Junqueras, prosecutors want two influential Catalan civic leaders, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, and former regional Parliamentary Speaker Carme Forcadell imprisoned for 17 years.

In a separate case, they said they were also seeking sentences of four to 11 years jail against former regional police leaders, including Catalonia’s then Police Chief Josep Lluis Trapero, whom they also accuse of rebellion.

In its statement, the prosecution service said pro-independence leaders planned to use all possible means to achieve secession, “including – knowing that the state wouldn’t accept this situation – any violence needed to secure this criminal result”.

It said separatist leaders had instigated “big citizen mobilisations” that represented an “intimidating force” and had also used the regional police force, with its 17,000 agents, which followed their orders.

The charge of rebellion has caused controversy in Spain, not just among those who support Catalan independence but further afield among legal experts.

According to Spanish law, rebellion is “rising up in a violent and public manner”, to among other things “breach, suspend or change the constitution” or “declare independence for part of the (Spanish) territory”.  

Military officers behind a 1981 attempted coup in Spain were found guilty of rebellion, for instance.

But many legal experts contest the use of rebellion in the Catalonia case, saying there was no violence during the secession bid, bar that waged by Spanish police on October 1, 2017, as they tried to stop people from voting in the banned referendum.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies