Twelve Catalan separatist leaders went on trial in Madrid on Tuesday over a failed independence bid that laid bare historical divisions and triggered Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.
Flanked by hundreds of police, pro- and anti-separatist demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court, where the defendants face charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, which they all reject.
Their supporters carried signs reading “Freedom for political prisoners” while a small rival group shouted “Golpista” or “coup plotter”, portraying the region’s independence declaration of October 2017 as an attempt to dismantle the Spanish state.
In his opening remarks to the trial, which is being transmitted live on television, a lawyer defending two of the accused said they had the right to seek independence for their region. “It (self-determination) is a synonym of peace, not of war,” Andreu Van den Eyndehe told the court.
The politically charged trial, which is expected to last at least three months, comes at a pivotal time for Spain’s government.
A snap national election is likely unless Catalan nationalist lawmakers change tack by ending their opposition to the 2019 budget in a vote on Wednesday.