MADRID – Nine Catalan politicians and activists have been sentenced on Monday to up to 13 years in prison by Spain’s Supreme Court for their involvement in a banned referendum in 2017.
Oriol Junqueras, the former deputy leader of the regional Catalan government, was found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds and sentenced to 13 years. He was also banned from holding public office for another 13 years.
The former Catalan foreign affairs minister Raul Romeva, ex-councilor Jordi Turull and ex-labor minister Dolors Bossa were sentenced to 12 years for the same charges and banned from public office for the same amount of time.
Former speaker of the regional Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 11 years and six months while former Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn and former lawmaker Josep Rull were handed a sentence of 10 years and six months.
Grassroots activists Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart were sentenced to nine years in prison.
Politicians Santiago Vila, Meritxell Borras and Carles Mundo have been convicted of an offense of disobedience and ordered to pay a fine.
The judgment acquits the defendants Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull, Santiago Vila, Meritxell Borras and Carles Mundo of the offense of misuse of public funds.
Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE), said the government respected the Supreme Court decision, adding that it followed the requirements of “due process, transparency and separation of powers.”
“Nobody is above the law. In a democracy like Spain nobody is subject to trial for his or her ideas or politics but rather for criminal conduct as provided by the law.”
He said the constitution was based on equality before the law, the right to self government by autonomous communities and national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“The Catalan pro independence movement has tried to subvert all those principles, creating a fracture within the Catalan society,” he said.
Responding to the court ruling, Catalan regional president Quim Torra, who is pro-independence, said the decision to send the nine to prison was “anti-democratic” and dubbed it an act of “revenge, not justice.”
He said he would ask for an “urgent” meeting with King Felipe VI and Sanchez in order to address the “crisis opened” as a result of the sentences.
“Condemning them (the nine) is an insult to democracy and a scorn on Catalan society,” he added. “Independence is today, more than ever, essential in order to live in a freer, fairer and more democratic society.”
Soccer giant Barcelona also condemned the proceedings.
“In the same way that the preventative prison sentence didn’t help to resolve the conflict, neither will the prison sentence given today, because prison is not the solution.
“The resolution of the conflict in Catalonia must come exclusively from political dialogue.
“FC Barcelona also expresses all its support and solidarity to the families of those who are deprived of their freedom.”
The seven Supreme Court judges presiding over the landmark trial ruled out more serious charges of rebellion, which had been requested by State Prosecutors and would have implied the use of violence.
“The Court finds that violence was proved to have been present. But, while violence indisputably occurred, this is not enough for the offense of rebellion to be made out,” a court statement read.
The convicted politicians and activists were found guilty of staging an unauthorized referendum on Catalan independence on October 1, 2017.
The illegal ballot brought Spain to the brink of a constitutional crisis. In response, the government at the time triggered a constitutional article to sack the regional Catalan government, dissolved parliament, temporarily suspend the region’s autonomous status and opened the path for legal proceedings against the accused.
Spain’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest judicial rung, had ruled the referendum unconstitutional.
On the day of voting, thousands of national police officers, under orders from the Spanish interior ministry, attempted to block people from voting – often through the use of batons and other forceful measures – and seized countless ballot boxes, although Catalans still managed to cast nearly 2.3 million votes, with the “yes” option winning 92 percent of them (turnout was only 43 percent of registered voters).
A Supreme Court press release on Monday said: “All the defendants were aware that a referendum for self-determination, which was held out as the means for the construction of the Republic of Catalonia, was clearly not legally viable.
“The imaginary right of self-determination was a device concealing the political and associational leaders’ desire to pressure the national Government to negotiate a plebiscite.”
In a letter to members of his left-wing ERC party, Junqueras accused the Spanish State of being driven by “vengeance.”
“More than ever, independence is a necessity in order to live in a society that is more free, just and democratic.”
Carles Puigdemont, who was regional president of Catalonia at the time of the referendum and is evading the same charges as his former colleagues in Belgium, said: “100 years in prison in total. An outrage.”
“Now, more than ever, I am at your side and that of your families. It’s time to react like never before. For the future of our children. For democracy. For Europe. For Catalonia.”
The Supreme Court issued a fresh European arrest warrant for the deposed former president after Monday’s ruling.
Forcadell also took to social media to describe it as a “dark day” for democracy.
Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition Popular Party, Pablo Casado, a conservative, said: “Whoever does the crime does the time.”
Authorities in Catalonia, a prosperous region in northeast Spain, were braced for protests.