Catalan independence bid was ‘coup’, Spanish court hears

Spanish prosecutors argued that Catalan separatists carried out a “coup d’état” in a failed independence bid two years ago, as they delivered closing arguments on Tuesday in a long-running trial where the group faces charges of rebellion.
The 12 leaders on trial were not pacifist leaders imprisoned for expressing their freedom of speech, the supreme court prosecutor’s office maintained.
“The object of this trial has nothing to do with the criminalisation of political dissidence,” prosecutor Javier Zaragoza said. “The reason [for this trial] is they attempted to liquidate the Spanish Constitution of 1978, the instrument of our peaceful coexistence.
“They undertook a serious attack on the constitutional order through coercive methods and used violence at those times when they believed it necessary.”
If convicted of rebellion, the defendants could face jail terms of up to 25 years.
The trial stems from a failed 2017 independence bid in which the separatist-led government in the Spanish region of Catalonia staged a referendum on independence, in defiance of the country’s constitutional court.
After a vote marred by clashes involving police, Madrid suspended Catalonia’s powers of regional autonomy. Regional leader Carles Puigdemont fled into exile while other senior politicians were arrested.
Summing up their case after four months of hearings, prosecutors acknowledged that the independence push did not involve an armed uprising and caused no deaths. But they argued that the defendants promoted violence by calling a referendum they knew to be illegal and, when told by regional police that it would probably lead to clashes with national security forces, called for more people to participate.
“There was enough violence for their goals. Without physical violence it would not have been possible to cross the necessary bridges on their road map to independence. [The defendants] knew that this would lead to confrontations and they accepted that,” said prosecutor Jaime Moreno. “And in addition, they called on the citizens to enter in clashes.”
The defence will give their closing arguments next week.
Nacho Torreblanca, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Madrid, said: “Violence is the stumbling block in this case. The penal code doesn’t define exactly the amount or the kind of violence necessary. It wasn’t written with a situation like this in mind.”
The prosecution’s closing arguments come at a tense moment in the relationship between Catalonia’s regional government and Madrid.
Last week, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously rejected a case brought by Catalan separatist politicians claiming that Spain’s constitutional court had violated their rights of free speech and assembly by blocking a regional parliamentary session during the secession push.
In a potentially damaging precedent for the pro-independence leaders, the ECHR — which is expected to hear the inevitable appeal of any conviction — said the Spanish court had pursued legitimate aims of “ensuring public security”, “preventing disorder” and “protecting the rights and freedoms of others”.
A day later, a UN working group on arbitrary detention issued an opinion calling for Spain to end the pre-trial detention of three of the defendants, saying that they had been detained arbitrarily and their rights violated.
While non-binding, the opinion offered a political victory to the Catalan separatist parties.
On Tuesday Catalan leader Joaquim Torra hit back at the prosecution’s arguments. “The prosecution had a golden opportunity to ask for the immediate release of the prisoners, following the recommendation of the UN,” he said. “We will denounce this farce of a trial everywhere”.



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