Two hundred thousand people, according to police figures, demonstrated on Saturday in Barcelona against the trial of twelve independence leaders charged with organising an an illegal independence referendum in Catalonia.
“Self-determination is not a crime,” proclaimed the banner leading the procession. The protesters waved the blue, red and yellow, separatist flag of Catalonia as well as placards reading: “Freedom for political prisoners”. Rally organisers put the number of demonstrators at 500,000, double the official estimate.
Twelve separatist Catalan leaders have been on trial since Tuesday in Madrid for the attempted secession of Catalonia in October 2017. They face charges of rebellion, misuse of public funds and sedition.
After organising the self-determination referendum, which had been deemed illegal by the central government in Madrid, the separatists then proclaimed an independent Catalan republic a few weeks later, on 27 October, sparking the worst political crisis that Spain has experienced since the end of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco and the transition to democracy in the late 1970’s.
The central question to be determined in the trial is whether the vote constituted an act of rebellion, a ruling that would result in the severest penalty and long prison sentences. The prosecution argues that it does and point to the violence that broke out at polling stations to support their claim. But the separatists argue that the only violence that day was carried out by the police as they tried to block the vote from going ahead.
In the absence of Carles Puigdemont, the former president of the region who fled to Belgium, the main defendant is his former vice president Oriol Junqueras, who is facing 25 years in prison if found guilty of ll charges. Sentences ranging from seven to 17 years have been called for against the other eleven accused, including the former president of the Catalan parliament, several regional ministers among others. The trial is expected to last about three months, with the verdict expected in July.