Twelve Catalan separatist leaders involved in an attempt to break from Spain went on trial on Tuesday under intense scrutiny, as tensions over the future of the region flare again.
The defendants, some of whom have been in pre-trial custody for over a year, sat on benches in the ornate room of Madrid's Supreme Court, facing seven judges and a discreet Spanish flag in proceedings broadcast live on television.
All are on trial over an independence referendum that was held on October 1st, 2017 despite a court ban, as well as a short-lived declaration of independence, which sparked Spain's worst political crisis since the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
Separatist officials demonstrated near the courthouse, where more than 600 journalists are accredited.
“We're at the Supreme Court to accuse the Spanish state of violating the civil and political rights of all Catalans,” the region's separatist president Quim Torra tweeted after holding a banner that read: “Deciding is not an offence”.
Som al Tribunal Suprem per acusar l'Estat espanyol de la vulneració dels drets civils i polítics de tots els catalans i catalanes. No ens defensem de res. #decidirnoésdelicte #joacuso #judicialesurnes #freetothom pic.twitter.com/FQyz9BYOi3
— Quim Torra i Pla (@QuimTorraiPla) February 12, 2019
Separatists in Catalonia want to be able to hold a referendum on their future and have dismissed the trial as a politically-motivated “farce”.
Pro-independence protesters in the region briefly blocked several roads before dawn, setting fire to tyres and holding up traffic.
Protests have been called in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, at 7 pm (1800 GMT).
But many Spaniards support the proceedings, still dumbstruck over the actions of Catalonia's then regional executive in October 2017 when it tried to break from the country.