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Catalan separatists call for “political solution” to crisis on last day of trial

The 12 leaders charged for their role in the 2017 secession bid insisted that their only aim was to give Catalans a chance to express themselves through a referendum

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(Second row) Oriol Junqueras (r) and Raül Romeva during the trial. EFE

The 12 Catalan separatist leaders on trial for rebellion and other crimes in connection with the unilateral secession attempt of October 2017 made their final statements at the last hearing on Wednesday.

All of them insisted that they are political prisoners on trial because of their ideas. They said their only aim had been to give Catalan citizens a chance to express themselves through a referendum, and called for political dialogue with the central government in Madrid as the only way out of the conflict.

There is no contrition of any kind

Òmnium leader Jordi Cuixart

Catalonia has become a pivotal issue in Spanish politics following the illegal referendum of October 1, 2017, the unilateral independence declaration that followed, and the seven-month suspension of self-government imposed by Madrid.

Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), who won the recent general election but has yet to form a government, has pledged to work toward a solution through dialogue.

The trial of the 12 separatist leaders that ended yesterday at the Supreme Court reflects how deeply divisive the issue has become. After four months of hearings and testimony from around 400 witnesses, neither the accusation nor the defense have substantially altered their original positions.

Former Catalan minister Josep Rull speaking at the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Former Catalan minister Josep Rull speaking at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. EFE

Prosecutors say the defendants organized a unilateral breakaway plan in deliberate violation of the law and despite reiterated warnings from the courts, hoping to create enough domestic and international pressure to force Madrid into talks.

The accused allegedly tried to liquidate the existing constitutional order, and for this they face charges ranging from disobedience, which entails no prison terms, to rebellion, which could mean more than a decade behind bars. The rebellion charge hinges on whether violence was used during the secession attempt, and this has been a major point of contention throughout the 52 hearings.

A “man of peace”

Oriol Junqueras, a leader of the Catalan Republican Party (ERC) who served as the deputy premier of Catalonia when the breakaway attempt took place, insisted on Wednesday that he is a man of peace.

“My dedication to politics came late in life, out of a desire to serve, to be useful, to build a better world with more freedom in it,” said Junqueras, who faces the highest prison term of any defendant, 25 years. He added that the Catalan independence issue should go back to the field of politics, “which it should never have left.”

It is unfair for this court to have to resolve a political problem

Jordi Sànchez, ex-ANC leader

The other defendants made similar calls. “If we are here today, it’s because politics failed,” said Joaquim Forn, who served as the head of interior affairs in the Cabinet of former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont – who is not among the leaders on trial as he fled Spain to avoid arrest following the independence declaration of October 2017, and has since settled in Belgium.

Forn was the only defendant who said that if he committed any offenses, it was not his intention to do so. “I categorically deny that my goal was to liquidate the [Spanish] Constitution through violence. I always had a negotiated solution in mind. I may have made mistakes, but at no point did I jeopardize people’s safety,” he said.

No regrets

Others were more defiant, saying they would “do everything I did all over again,” in the words of Jordi Cuixart, leader of Òmnium, a pro-independence association that played a relevant role in the breakaway bid. “There is no contrition of any kind.”

Jordi Sànchez, the former leader of a similar association called ANC, told the panel of justices that politicians should be dealing with this problem, not them. “It is unfair for this court to have to resolve a political problem,” he said. “You cannot resolve it, but you do have a duty not to make the political crisis any worse. I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes.”

Yet others underscored the personal effects of the court’s actions, which include placing several of the defendants in pre-trial custody – on the basis that they presented a flight risk, among other reasons – since as far back as the fall of 2017.

“So far, through your resolutions, you have decided that I may not see my two children, who are 10 and four, grow up,” said former Cabinet member Josep Rull. “But no matter what your verdict is, it will not stop me from leaving them a more valuable legacy: the dignity of legitimate and noble ideas.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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