Catalan separatists indicted for rebellion as trial nears

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2017, file photo, the sacked Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras arrives at the National Court for questioning by a National Court judge investigating possible rebellion charges, in Madrid, Spain. Spanish prosecutors on Friday Nov. 2, 2018 are requesting for Junqueras to be imprisoned for 25 years on rebellion charges, the highest prison term in indictments issued for separatist leaders who pushed for Catalan independence last year. (Paul White, File/Associated Press)
By Aritz Parra | AP
November 2 at 11:15 AM

MADRID — Spanish prosecutors want the former vice president of Catalonia to be imprisoned for 25 years if he is convicted of rebellion and misuse of public funds for promoting the region’s independence last year, according to an indictment issued Friday.

The indictment filed by Spain’s public prosecutors laid out for the first time the punishments they will seek for 22 separatist leaders set to go on trial in January, events that will keep the question of Catalan independence at the center of Spanish politics.

The public prosecutors, who represent the public interest in Spanish courts, charged the regional politicians, activists and civil servants with rebellion for using “the necessary violence to ensure the criminal outcome sought” — organizing a banned referendum as part of a bid to break away from Spain.

The rebellion charges represent a different strategy from the one adopted by the state attorneys representing the central government.

The attorney general’s office has called for the defendants to be charged with sedition, a lesser charge for suspects accused of subverting the Spanish state or constitution that does not include the element of violence needed to show rebellion.

Opposition politicians and Spanish media interpreted the reduced charge request as an effort by the center-left government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to win the support he needs to remain in power from separatist lawmakers in the national parliament.

But Justice Minister Dolores Delgado dismissed the claims of the legal moves being made to appease separatists.

“This is not an issue of gestures. It’s a judicial and technical issue of applying the law in a professional manner,” Delgado said after the Cabinet’s weekly meeting.

Asked whether the government planned to pardon the defendants if they are convicted and sentenced, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo only noted that the Spanish Constitution would allow such an action.

“The government is going to scrupulously respect the trial process,” Calvo said.

Friday’s indictment didn’t involve the Catalan politicians who fled the country, including former regional President Carles Puigdemont, and Spain considers fugitives from justice.

Both prosecuting parties accuse Catalonia’s former regional vice president, Oriol Junqueras, of being the main promoter of the illegal independence referendum. Junqueras stayed in Spain and was jailed preventively exactly one year ago.

The banned vote caused Spain’s gravest political crisis in four decades of democracy, prompting an unprecedented 7-month-long suspension of Catalonia’s self-government.

A new Catalan separatist administration has kept up a defiant pro-independence rhetoric but hasn’t broken the law.

The regional president, Quim Torra, on Friday said his predecessors didn’t commit crimes and were being prosecuted for their ideas. He also accused the prime minister of being an “accomplice in the repression.”

Sanchez’s government, Torra said in a live address from the Catalan parliament, “has lost a golden opportunity to take the conflict in Catalonia out of the courts and return it to the political (arena), which is where it should be.”

The events in Catalonia last year are expected to be revisited in two trials set to start in January. Eighteen politicians and activists are being prosecuted in the Spanish Supreme Court for their links to the turbulent events. Four regional law enforcement officials were investigated separately.

The second-longest prison terms public prosecutors are seeking — 17 years — are for Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, who headed activist groups pushing for Catalan independence, and also for Carme Forcadell, the ex-speaker of the Catalan parliament.

Weeks after the banned referendum went ahead and police used violence against voters to try to stop it, Forcadell presided over a tense session in which a narrow majority of regional lawmakers passed an independence declaration.

The declaration prompted the central government central authorities to move swiftly to take over control of Catalonia and to pursue criminal charges against prominent separatists.