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Verdicts Expected For Catalan Separatist Leaders

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Separatist leaders in Spain are awaiting the outcome of a Supreme Court trial that began in February. Twelve of those leaders are being tried for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds in connection with the 2017 Catalan independence referendum. The vote was deemed illegal by Spain's central government, and some of those on trial could face up to 25 years in jail. The verdict will probably come soon, as Lucia Benavides reports.

(APPLAUSE)

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: Tens of thousands of protesters took to Barcelona's streets recently chanting liberty and waving Catalan flags as they showed support for the separatist leaders facing prison time for their role in an independence bid that Spain declared unconstitutional. One of those arrested is Jordi Cuixart, president of the pro-independence grassroots group Omnium Cultural. He's been charged with sedition and faces up to 17 years behind bars. The group's vice president is Marcel Mauri.

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MARCEL MAURI: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Mauri says it's shameful to have an activist jailed for organizing peaceful protests. Back in October 2017, Catalonia held an independence vote despite warnings from Madrid, and grassroots organizations like Omnicom Cultural played a key role. Forty three percent of voters turned out to cast their ballots, and 90% voted in favor. Catalan government officials then declared independence. But Spain quickly suspended the move and dissolved the regional government, arresting some of its leaders. Others, like former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, went into self-exile. Earlier this year, they went on trial.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JORDI CUIXART: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: During his testimony in court, activist Jordi Cuixart called himself a political prisoner. At the time, he had already spent 500 days in jail without bail. More than 300 people took the stand during the four-month trial, which ended in June. The verdict is expected before October 16. Jordi Nieva-Fennoll, professor of procedural law at the University of Barcelona, says it was a fair trial, but he hopes the judges will drop the more serious charges of rebellion.

JORDI NIEVA-FENNOLL: Was there any violence there, violence of a rebellion? No, it wasn't because a rebellion means take the power to a country. They didn't do that. The Catalan separatists just wanted to call for a referendum, and they did it illegally. But that's all.

BENAVIDES: He says Madrid should have engaged in political dialogue rather than initiating a criminal procedure that only serves to separate the two sides even more. Nieva-Fennoll believes the trial's verdict could affect Spain's next general elections, due on November 10.

NIEVA-FENNOLL: I think this judgment should arrive after the elections because something so emotional, of course, they will affect the vote.

BENAVIDES: About a thousand police officers have been deployed to Catalonia in anticipation of possible protests when the verdict is finally announced.

For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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