Trial of Catalan ‘rebels’ deepens rift over independence

Bitcoin.com

Find Hotels in Dubai

Hotel Stars Discount Price per night, from Choose dates

Sofitel Dubai Downtown

★★★★★

-54%

21999

View Hotel

InterContinental Dubai Festival City

★★★★★

-53%

246114

View Hotel

Park Hyatt Dubai

★★★★★

-46%

290157

View Hotel


MADRID — The battle in court is coming to a close. But the political fight is just getting started.

The case against 12 Catalan leaders on charges that include violent rebellion and sedition is scheduled to conclude Wednesday, exactly four months after it began.

The defendants, nine of whom have been in preventive custody for over a year, have been on trial since February 12 for their participation in the Catalan regional government’s failed bid for independence in 2017.

Three of them — former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, the Catalan National Assembly’s Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart of the pro-independence Òmnium Cultural association — face potential jail sentences between 17 and 25 years if found guilty.

A verdict, and any resulting sentences, isn’t expected until the fall, after the court has reviewed the evidence provided by prosecutors, defendants and hundreds of witnesses. But the process has already deepened the fraught fault lines between Catalonia and Spanish authorities in Madrid.

Separatists have focused their messaging on the judiciary’s decision to keep nine of the 12 defendants in preventive custody.

Anger over the trial, accusations of bias and the detention of the high-profile defendants have given new life to Catalonia’s nationalists, whose spirits were sagging after their failed attempt to break away. And nationally, the issue continues to burn; it contributed to the fall of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government earlier this year.

The Supreme Court’s president has described the trial as “the most important that we have had in the democratic era.”

As the judicial process winds down and both sides await the verdict, the struggle to control the narrative and determine what happens next is already well under way.

Timely boost

Catalonia’s separatists may be outraged over a judicial process they have characterized as political persecution. But it comes at a good time for their cause.

Since their failed attempt to secede, the region’s separatists have focused their messaging on the judiciary’s decision to keep nine of the 12 defendants behind bars.

Supporters have held a series of mass demonstrations and have hung yellow ribbons — symbolizing solidarity with the prisoners — in public spaces across the region. On several occasions, these displays have prompted clashes between Catalan nationalists and Spanish unionists, who oppose the region’s push to break away from Madrid.

“The biggest mobilizing factor for the independence cause over the last year or so has been the jailing of the defendants in the Supreme Court trial,” said Jordi Amat, a Catalan writer and commentator.

At a time when morale might otherwise have flagged, “the issue of the prisoners” has become a rallying cry.

Fury over the issue has benefited Catalonia’s inexperienced leader, Quim Torra, as he struggles to keep control of the independence movement.

Torra, who has said he is preparing for the trial’s verdict by consulting colleagues and grassroots independence organizations on how to respond to it, has suggested there will be a strong popular backlash if any of the defendants are found guilty.

Catalan President Quim Torra next to a yellow ribbon, a symbol demanding the freedom of separatist leaders now in pre-trial jail | Lluís Gené/AFP via Getty Images

“When we see the sentences, they might turn out to be another enormous mistake by the powers in Spain,” Catalan Foreign Minister Alfred Bosch told POLITICO.

“Obviously we won’t just sit there. We’ll have to react — we believe we are entitled to react in a civic, peaceful way.”

The trial’s outcome will also affect the institutional relationship between Catalonia and Madrid.

Since taking office last year, Sánchez has attempted to engage with the Catalan government, restoring a bilateral working group and holding regular meetings with Torra.

However, the prime minister’s efforts to find common ground with Catalan lawmakers, offering to meet a long-held demand of the secessionists to appoint a facilitator in talks between pro-independence and pro-unity political parties, failed, triggering April’s general election.

The trial’s legal fallout will drag on well beyond the fall, with appeals that could go as far as the European Court of Human Rights.

Having won that election, Sánchez is now attempting to form a new government. Crucially, he may be able to do so without the support of pro-independence parties, which would mean they no longer hold the political leverage they enjoyed during his first year in government.

Should that come to pass, some observers expect that Torra will look for other ways of exerting pressure on Madrid. One of them would be to respond to any guilty verdicts by calling a regional election to capitalize on public outrage over the trial and broaden the secessionist parties’ narrow majority in the Catalan parliament.

Complicating that plan, however, is the competition between the two leading Catalan nationalist forces. Holding another election would put Torra’s Junts per Catalunya at risk of losing support to its most dangerous rival, the similarly separatist Catalan Republican Left.

A protester places portraits of jailed and self-exiled members of Catalonia’s ousted government | Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images

“We’ve got to where we are because neither of these two parties has wanted to be seen to be betraying its electoral support base,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at Barcelona’s Autonomous University.

The two parties, he said, will be vying to prove “who is more committed to independence, who is willing to take more risks, who disobeys more.”

Heavy sentences for the defendants would add pressure on the two parties, who “wouldn’t be able to justify [reaching agreements with the Spanish government] to their supporters,” La Vanguardia columnist Lola García noted.

Benefits for the right

The resulting escalation would continue to force the Catalan issue up the national agenda, drawing attention from Sánchez’s agenda, which includes proposed reforms in areas such as euthanasia, workers’ rights and gender equality, as well as efforts to cement his status as a prominent and influential European leader.

That would benefit Spain’s fragmented and stridently unionist right. The center-right Popular Party, the liberal Ciudadanos and the far-right Vox party have all used the Catalan issue to attack Sánchez, with varying degrees of success.

The perceived threat to Spanish unity could, for example, help the Popular Party, which lost over half its congressional seats in the general election.

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called for several of the defendants to be freed and paid compensation.

Sánchez’s government is already bracing itself for the likelihood that the trial’s legal fallout will drag on well beyond the fall, with appeals that could go as far as the European Court of Human Rights.

In addition to its potential to derail Sánchez’s agenda, the government also worries a protracted fight over Catalonia would damage Spain’s image internationally.

“For me this is much more than a mere battle of images,” said Irene Lozano, who heads up the Spanish government’s international image department, España Global. “For me it’s one of the biggest battles against disinformation in the world.”

The trial has already caught international attention, with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calling for several of the defendants to be freed and paid compensation. The plight of Catalan politicians also made a splash in Brussels last month, after elected members of the European Parliament from Catalonia who have escaped the Spanish justice system by living abroad were denied entry to the institution because Madrid has not yet filled out the paperwork that would have allowed them to enter.

Former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

The case “has helped the international community to understand what is happening and that this is not just a bunch of egotistical people who want to separate because they are wealthier [than other regions],” said Bosch, the region’s foreign minister.

The Spanish government questioned the timing of the U.N. findings, which came toward the end of the trial, and alleged that some members of the working group had a conflict of interest. The report was nevertheless a blow to Madrid, which has struggled to counter the independence movement’s slick PR machine.

An editorial on the progressive news site CTXT warned that although the end of the legal process is in sight, “it is doubtful that it will resolve the social conflict, improve co-existence or manage to cover up the fact that nobody has yet accepted political responsibility [for this crisis] on one side or the other.”



Source link

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*