Catalan trial turns into pro-independence show of force (Politico)
As prosecution of Artur Mas begins, Barcelona and Madrid remain at loggerheads
Diego Torres, Barcelona.- Around 40,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona Monday ahead of the start of the trial of former Catalan president Artur Mas and two members of his cabinet, who are accused of organizing an illegal vote on independence from Spain in 2014.
In a carefully organized show of force, the defendants walked from the headquarters of the regional government to the courthouse accompanied by members of the current Catalan cabinet. Thousands of supporters made their voices heard, shouting “independence” and “you are not alone” and waving pro-independence banners.
“Many of us feel that we’re being judged today,” said current Catalan President Carles Puigdemont. “Those responsible for making [the vote] a judicial affair will face a nation that maintains its dignity.”
Mas — who faces a 10-year ban from public office if found guilty — assumed full responsibility before the tribunal for instigating the non-binding vote, but denied having intentionally violated the law.
He claimed that his government was simply supporting the work of an estimated 42,000 volunteers who organized the vote, which was ruled illegal by the country’s Constitutional Court five days before it was due to take place.
Around 2.3 million people — between 36 percent and 42 percent of the electorate, depending on which side’s figures are used — cast a ballot and 80 percent voted for independence.
“No one is being judged for his political ideas,” Pablo Casado, a spokesman for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party, told reporters in Madrid after the hearing. In Spain, he claimed, “everyone is subject to the rule of law because a democracy without law is not a democracy.”
The trial of Mas, his deputy Joana Ortega and his education minister Irene Rigau — which will last five days — comes at a time of extreme tension between Puigdemont’s secessionist cabinet, which has committed to organizing a new referendum on independence (this time a binding one) before October, and Spain’s government led by Rajoy.
The conservative PM and the vast majority of Spanish political forces oppose the vote and the self-determination of Catalonia. The government in Madrid has made it clear that it will use all legal means to stop the referendum.