Catalan separarists’ trial: What you need to know

This is what you need to know about the trial of 12 Catalan separatist leaders involved in a failed secession bid.

Catalan separarists' trial: What you need to know
The trial got underway at Madrid's supreme court. Photos: AFP

Who's on trial?

Some of the jailed Catalan separatist leaders, clockwise from top left: Raül Romeva, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Turull, Oriol Junqueras, Josep Rull, Jordi Sanchez, Dolors Bassa, Carme Forcadell and Jordi Cuixart.Photos: AFP

The 12 include former Catalan government officials, civil leaders of pro-independence groups and the former president of Catalonia's regional parliament.

Nine have been held in pre-trial detention for months.including former Catalan vice president and regional economy minister Oriol Junqueras.   

Public prosecutors have asked for a jail term of 25 years for Junqueras. He remains in charge of Catalonia's pro-independence party ERC despite being in jail since November 2017.

The former speaker of the Catalan regional parliament who read out the declaration of independence in the assembly, 63-year-old Carme Forcadell, faces a possible jail term of 17 years.

Other key figures include Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, AKA ‘Los Jordis’. The pair are accused of using huge demonstrations to try to stop Spanish police officers from following a judge’s orders to halt the referendum, which had already been suspended by the country’s constitutional court.

Sànchez, 54, and Cuixart, 43, face 17-year sentences if convicted of rebellion, or 12 years if found guilty of sedition. 

Separatists call them “political prisoners” who are suffering oppression of the kind experienced in Spain during Francisco Franco's 1939-75 dictatorship.

Where's Puigdemont? 

The region's erstwhile president Carles Puigdemont — who fled to Belgium shortly after the declaration of independence — is not among the group because Spain does not allow trials in absentia for major offences.

While former ministers in his regional government are in the dock, he will be watching from afar. At the start of the trial on Tuesday, he was calling a press conference in Berlin, where he had travelled to present an award for a Netflix documentary film called “The two Catalonia's” at the Berlinale film festival. 

The rest of the time he is attempting to lead a 'government in exile' or “council of the republic”from his villa in Waterloo, Belgium.

Attempts by Spanish court to extradite him on an international arrest warrant failed after a German court said the charge of rebellion did not stand. 

But he faces immediate arrest on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds should he return to Spain.

The charges

Public prosecutors accuse nine of the 12 defendants — including Junqueras and Forcadell — of rebellion, which carries a jail term of 15-25 years.   

Under Spain's criminal code, rebellion is defined as “rising up violently and publicly”, especially to “declare the independence of a part of the national territory”.

This charge is disputed by separatists and many Spanish legal experts. The trial will focus on the alleged use of violence, which the defendants deny.   

But public prosecutors point to “violent incidents” during pro-independence protests orchestrated by two grassroots groups in Barcelona on September 20th, 2017.

Prosecutors also accuse the separatists of fostering “acts of violence and aggression against police officers” on the day of the referendum.   

The October 1st, 2017 independence referendum was marred by a violent police crackdown on polling stations.

Six of the defendants accused of rebellion are also accused of misusing public funds to stage the independence bid.   

Three other former Catalan government ministers face jail terms of up to seven years for disobedience and misuse of public funds.

The accusers

Spanish far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal arrives to attend the trial of jailed Catalan separatists at the Supreme Court i

Spain's legal system allows for three different bodies to file criminal complaints against defendants: public prosecutors, state attorneys and a third party, in this case far-right party Vox.

Public prosecutors are made up of magistrates who are appointed by the government but are supposed to act independently.   

The state attorneys, lawyers who represent the government, have taken a more lenient line than the public prosecutors. They are pushing the less serious charge of sedition and are seeking jail terms of up to 12 years.   

In Spain third parties can also file criminal complaints and take part in the legal proceedings even if they are not directly involved in the case.   

Vox, which is rising in the polls thanks to its hard line against Catalan separatism, is demanding a combined jail sentence of over 700 years for the 12 defendants.

The party will be represented at the court by its secretary-general Javier Ortega Smith.

The trial

The trial takes place at the Supreme Court in Madrid and although there is no time-limit, it is expected to last around three months. Proceedings will be  broadcast live on television, and over 600 journalists accredited.

An estimated 500 witnesses have been called to testify, including former conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy who was in office at the time of the referendum.

The verdicts, which will be delivered several months after the trial ends, must be approved by a majority of the panel.

If found guilty, the defendants have the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court. If that appeal fails, there is always the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.



Catalan regional president Quim Torra (C-R) and Catalan regional parliament speaker Roger Torrent (C-L) take part in a protest against the trial of jailed Catalan separatists in Madrid on February 12. Photo: AFP

The lead up to the trial has been marked by protests; demonstrations when the prisoners were moved from jails in Catalonia to Madrid, roads blocked and rubbish tipped at judicial buildings to symbolise how “justice is shit” in Spain. 

ANALYSIS: Enough of the potty protests, Madrid's trial of Catalan leaders will be a civilised matter

At dawn on the first day of the trial,  activists blocked roads in Catalonia, including the main highway into the region, burning tyres and forcing vehicles to a standstill.

Activists have also called for protesters to hit the streets of Barcelona, the Catalan capital, at 7pm on the first day of the trial. 

How independent is Spain's judiciary?

Photo: JaneUK/Depositphotos

Spain has had a long-standing public perception that its judiciary is biased.

In the EU's 2018 “Justice Scoreboard”, Spain came sixth to last among 28 member states for public perception of the independence of judges and courts, behind Poland and Hungary.Catalan separatists have dismissed the trial as a “farce” whose outcome is already pre-determined.

Not so, says the government, which has published a thick file to show Spain's justice system is just  as fair as its European counterparts, citing rankings by the European Commission, the European Court of Human Rights and Transparency International.

Supreme Court President Carlos Lesmes points out that if the justice system really was not independent, the king's brother-in-law would not be in jail for corruption, nor would a court ruling have sparked a no-confidence motion that brought down the conservative government in June.

“I think this will be the most important trial we've had in democracy,” he told reporters before the start of the trial.    

“It's a challenge because there's been a big smear campaign of Spain's judiciary.”

Courts in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland have also contributed to doubts about Spain's legal system by refusing to extradite separatists who had escaped after the declaration of independence.

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain