Spain’s national court has summoned four Catalan officials, including the region’s police chief, for a hearing over allegations of sedition against the central government during last month’s pro-independence demonstrations in Barcelona.
Three of the four suspects, including Catalan police Chief Josep Lluis Trapero, Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, and Jordi Cuixart, the president of the separatist group Omnium Cultural, arrived to testify in the court on Friday.
The other suspect, Catalan police officer Teresa Laplana, is testifying by video link from Barcelona because of medical reasons.
Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) is seen upon his arrival to appear before a judge at Spain’s High Court in Madrid on October 6, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
They are accused of failing to help Spain’s police tackle the thousands of protesters who were out in the streets ahead of the October 1 independence referendum.
The crime of sedition carries a potential prison term of up to 15 years.
After the court hearings, the Catalan officials were allowed to leave.
The hearings took place as supporters of Catalonia’s independence, including some politicians, gathered outside the court. Some protesters were holding up referendum ballot papers, with the presence of dozens of Spanish police in the area.
The spokesman for the Democratic Party of Catalonia, Carles Campuzano, who was among the protesters outside the court, described the hearing as an outrage.
“It’s just another expression of the absolutely mistaken, authoritarian, repressive response by the (Spanish) state to the pacific, democratic, and civic demand of Catalan society
,” he said.
Protesters rally in support of independence for Catalonia, in Barcelona. (AFP file photo)
Tensions have been running high between Madrid and Catalonia’s regional government since before the referendum. The Catalan government has said it might unilaterally declare independence within days.
The Spanish government went out of its way to avert the Sunday referendum, raiding venues and confiscating ballot boxes and papers, arresting officials, and even installing police forces at sites where polling stations managed to get set up to physically remove voters. Security forces used batons and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of voters, wounding nearly 900 people.
The United Nations called on Spanish authorities on Monday to launch a complete and fair investigation into the violence.
Despite the crackdown, some 2.26 million of Catalonia’s 5.3 million registered voters managed to cast their ballots, according to figures released by the regional government, which said the turnout had been some 43 percent. Ninety percent of the participants voted in favor of secession from Spain, the regional government said.
‘Regional parliament session due on Tuesday’
Meanwhile, Spain’s Constitutional Court has ordered that a planned meeting in the Catalan parliament on Monday — when independence was likely to be declared — be suspended.
A parliamentary spokeswoman, however, said on Friday that Catalan President Carles Puigdemont would attend another meeting in the regional parliament next Tuesday.
She said the regions’ parliamentary leaders will meet later on Friday to decide the timing on his speech.
However, another regional government official, Raul Romeva, said that the parliament would defy the court ban and go ahead on Monday with a debate that could lead to a declaration of independence from the country.