(CN) — Spain’s Supreme Court will decide whether the jailed leaders of the independence drive in Catalonia should face charges of rebellion or the lesser crime of sedition.
Public prosecutors on Friday charged the independence leaders with rebellion but Spain’s attorney general then filed indictments for sedition.
A charge of rebellion accuses a defendant of using violence, while sedition does not.
Under Spanish law, the prosecutor’s office represents the public and the attorney general, also known as the state attorney general, represents the national government.
Now it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide what charges the political leaders should face. The trials will be conducted by the Supreme Court and are expected to begin early next year.
Spain’s new government, led by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took office on June 2, has been more open to the Catalan independence movement and his opponents said that the lesser charges sought by the attorney general’s office were a reflection of that.
El País, a Spanish newspaper, reported that Jose Manuel Villegas, the secretary general of Ciudadanos, a center-right opposition party very strong in Catalonia, accused the prime minister in a radio interview of “acting like the defense attorney for the coup plotters.”
Sanchez relies on the votes of pro-independence Catalan political parties. His government has denied applying pressure on the state attorney’s office.
“This is not about gestures; it comes from the professionalism of the state attorney’s office, based on technical legal parameters,” said Spanish Justice Minister Dolores Delgado.
Nine people awaiting trial are in prison. They include former Catalan government officials: Catalonia's former Vice President Oriol Junqueras; a presidential candidate, Jordi Turull; the parliament speaker Carme Forcadell; four ministers, and two leaders of pro-independence civil society groups, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez.
The defendants have denied the charges and accuse the government of political persecution.
Ben Emmerson, a human rights lawyer involved in the defense of the Catalan leaders, called the defendants “political prisoners” and the harsh sentences proposed by the Spanish prosecutor “profoundly unhinged.”
Elisenda Paluzie, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, a pro-independence group, was quoted as saying, “Self-determination of a people is not a crime; it is a universal right.”
Junqueras faces the longest sentence. Prosecutors want him to serve 25 years in prison while the state attorneys called for a 12-year prison term. Other defendants face less harsh sentences.
The Spanish judiciary sought to get six other Catalan politicians — most notably, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, the public face of the independence drive — extradited to Spain after they fled to other European countries. But courts in Belgium and Germany blocked that attempt.
The upcoming trials could spark high drama and stoke tensions in a country riven by polarization and distrust of the court system’s independence from politics.
Spanish prosecutors brought the charges in connection with an independence referendum on Oct. 1, 2017, which Spain’s constitutional court ruled was illegal.
In a controversial move, Spain’s conservative government sent in thousands of police officers to forcibly remove voters and shut down the referendum. Voters were hit with batons and police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators.
Although the voting and protests by Catalans were seen as nonviolent, the government and courts accused the Catalan leaders of fomenting rebellion and misusing public funds in holding the vote.
Many Spanish legal scholars have questioned charging the independence leaders with rebellion, which they say must entail acts of violence.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)Follow @cainburdeau
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