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The nine sentenced leaders: (top, from left) Raül Romeva, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Turull, Oriol Junqueras, Josep Rull; (bottom from left) Jordi Cuixart, Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa and Jordi Sànchez. Composite: AFP/Getty Images

Catalan separatist leaders given lengthy prison sentences

Spain’s supreme court has jailed nine prominent Catalan separatist leaders for sedition over their roles in the failed push for independence two years ago, triggering angry protests in Catalonia and renewed calls for a political solution to the long-running territorial dispute, The Guardian reports.

Protesters took to the streets and others tried to blockade the main terminal at Barcelona airport after the court acquitted the nine defendants of the charge of violent rebellion but convicted them variously of sedition, misuse of public funds and disobedience.

The region’s former vice-president Oriol Junqueras was convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was also banned from holding public office for 13 years.

The former Catalan foreign minister Raül Romeva, labour minister Dolors Bassa and regional government spokesman Jordi Turull were each convicted of the same offences and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment and handed 12-year bans on holding office.

Carme Forcadell, a former speaker of the Catalan parliament, was sentenced to 11 and a half years, while the former interior minister Joaquim Forn and territorial minister Josep Rull got 10 and a half years each.

Two influential pro-independence grassroots activists, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, were found guilty of sedition and given nine-year sentences.

Three other independence leaders were found guilty of disobedience and handed fines and bans from holding office.

The four-month trial heard from 422 witnesses and investigated the events that triggered the country’s worst political crisis since it returned to democracy after the death of General Franco.

Less than five hours after the seven judges’ verdicts were announced, an international arrest warrant was reissued for the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who spearheaded the push for independence. The warrant said Puigdemont, who fled into self-imposed exile in Belgium to avoid arrest by the Spanish authorities, was wanted for alleged sedition and misuse of public funds.

Junqueras urged supporters not to give up on Catalan independence. “We’ll return stronger and with even more belief than ever,” he tweeted. “Thanks to everyone, keep fighting because we will keep fighting forever.”

Sànchez, a regional MP and former president of the influential grassroots Catalan National Assembly, said his nine-year sentence would not dent his optimism nor his belief in an independent Catalonia. He also made a plea for calm. “Let’s express ourselves without fear and move forward, non-violently, towards freedom,” he tweeted.

Spain’s acting prime minister, the socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, said his government respected the supreme court’s decision, which he said met all the requirements of due process, transparency and separation of powers.

“Nobody is above the law,” he said. “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.”

Sánchez said the Catalan independence movement had tried to subvert the Spanish constitution and had created a fracture within Catalan society “by refusing to recognise the majority who oppose independence”.

He said the government would work to guarantee public order in the coming days. On Monday, a large number of officers patrolled Barcelona airport and the city’s Sants railway station to guard against any attempts at direct action in response to the sentences. Police also gathered at Girona’s main railway station.

By late afternoon the focus of the protest was Barcelona airport. Tsunami Democràtic, a group formed to channel reaction to the verdicts, organised a download of more than 100,000 fake airline tickets designed to help protesters get past police lines. After police closed the airport train link, thousands set off on foot to make the three and a half hour walk from central Barcelona.

There was a tense atmosphere in the airport, with large contingents of national and regional police holding back protesters.

The Catalan president, Quim Torra, urged an amnesty for those convicted and said the sentences would not deflect his administration from pressing on with its quest for independence. “Repression will never triumph over dialogue, democracy and self-determination,” he said.

Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, said he believed the verdict could serve as a means to bring Catalonia’s deeply divided society back together.

Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief-elect, told the Associated Press that work should begin “for a normalisation of the political social life in Spain and to heal the wounds of this Catalan society, but with full respect to the Spanish constitution”.

The trial centred on a referendum held on 1 October 2017 in defiance of the government at the time, under the conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy, and of the country’s constitution, which is founded on the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”.

Also scrutinised were the events of 20 September 2017, when police raided Catalan regional government offices and arrested 14 senior officials in an attempt to head off the vote.

The raids brought thousands of Catalans out to protest. Guardia Civil officers became trapped inside the buildings they were searching and three of their vehicles were vandalised.

The defendants have already said they will appeal to the European court of human rights.

A spokeswoman for the European commission said it respected the decisions of the Spanish judiciary. “Our position on this is well known and has not changed,” she said. “This is, and remains, an internal matter for Spain, which has to be dealt with in line with its constitutional order.”

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