Several Catalan pro-independence leaders were handed prison sentences by the Spanish Supreme Court on Monday, ranging from nine to 13-years.
They include the former Vice-President of Catalonia and MEP Oriol Junqueras, who was given the toughest penalty of 13 years imprisonment.
The Catalan separatists were on trial for attempting to declare regional independence and for their role in organising a referendum in 2017, which had been declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court.
Despite the severity of Junqueras’ verdict, the jail terms could have been harsher. Among the charges was the accusation of rebellion, which normally carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years. However, all the accused were cleared of this charge.
According to the Spanish penal code, a rebellion involves violent means against the state, but the judges found that, although there was violence, there was not enough to consider that the actions of those on trial constituted a rebellion.
"Nobody can remain silent before this violation of fundamental rights" Alfred Bosch, Catalonia’s Minister for Foreign Action, Institutional Relations and Transparency
Scottish National Party MEP, Alyn Smith was quick to react, saying "These appallingly disproportionate sentences are not justice, they are an act of vengeance which will only worsen an already difficult situation."
"Whether Spain likes it or not, a majority of Catalans want to decide their own future in a peaceful, democratic way. This is not going to go away, indeed with today's verdict the demand for self-determination will only grow stronger."
"The way forward has to be through dialogue and negotiation, respecting Catalonia's right to self-determination," added Smith.
The seven judges presiding over the trial said their verdicts were unanimous. Their 500-page ruling comes after the court heard the testimonies of 422 witnesses in a trial that lasted several months.
Reaction to the verdict was swift, with protestors taking to the streets of Barcelona and causing several traffic jams across the city.
"The way forward has to be through dialogue and negotiation, respecting Catalonia's right to self-determination" Alyn Smith MEP
Over the weekend, the Spanish government, anticipating protests following today’s verdict, pre-emptively sent 1000 riot police officers from the National Police and Civil Guard to the region.
Responding to the verdict, the Government of Catalonia’s Minister for Foreign Action, Institutional Relations and Transparency, Alfred Bosch, said, "The international community needs to play an active role in resolving this conflict between Catalonia and Spain. Nobody can remain silent before this violation of fundamental rights”.
Echoing Bosch, Alyn Smith added "Sadly, what has happened today is a travesty of justice which will only serve to worsen already difficult relations between Catalonia and Spain. An amnesty for these political prisoners would be one way forward, and a gesture of goodwill by the Spanish government."
"No EU country, no democratic country would allow the leaders of a separatist movement to attack the rule of law as they have done in Spain" Luis Garicano MEP
However, Spanish MEP Luis Garicano told the Parliament Magazine “In the face of separatist leaders who have tried to divide their region and who have sought to confront the Catalans, the Supreme Court has been clear: No EU country, no democratic country, would allow the leaders of a separatist movement to attack the rule of law as they have done in Spain. Any country would have to respond to this attack.”
Junqueras and his co-defendants had previously stated that following any verdict, they would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who fled Spain to avoid arrest in October 2017 and lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, is facing a new extradition battle following a separate decision on Monday by Spain to seek his return.