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On Monday 14 October, Spain’s Supreme Court announced the sentencing of several Catalan separatist leaders. Together, they received a total of 100 years in prison, with the former vice-president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, receiving 13 years alone. The long-awaited verdict has sparked outrage amongst the Catalan population, and many have protested the decision by marching in the Catalonian capital, Barcelona. A renewed arrest warrant is also sought for ex-President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, who remains in exile in Belgium.
In-exile Carles Puigdemont responded to the verdict as “an outrage”, whilst Oriol Junqueras has stated that the Catalan movement will “come back even stronger”. The verdict is seen by many as worsening the ongoing crisis in Spain, with the prison sentences representing an inadequate solution to the conflict. Barcelona football club – a key figure in the Catalonian region stated, “The resolution of the conflict in Catalonia must come exclusively from political dialogue”. Many from across Europe have also criticised the decision. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, stated that “Any political system that leads to such a dreadful outcome needs urgent change”. A former UN Independent Expert, Alfred de Zayas, also responded to the judgement by asserting, “The criminalization of the right of self-determination of peoples is a crime against the UN Charter and Article 1 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.
In July, a UN report referred to the detention of Catalan separatist leaders as “arbitrary” and as constituting “political prisoners”. The UN working group, moreover, urged for the leaders – involving Oriol Junqueras – to be released immediately in accordance with international law. Spain’s verdict, therefore, on Monday to sentence the Catalan separatist leaders collectively to 100 years in prison can be seen as illegitimate, hence sparking protests in the country. The verdict is particularly beneficial for Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, who leads the polls prior to the upcoming elections.. Sanchez referred to the decision as legitimate, stating “In a social and democratic state of law, compliance means full compliance”. The verdict of the separatist leaders, however, could reignite the Catalonian independence movement, gathering support from ministers throughout Europe.
The sentenced Catalan separatists, who Sanchez argues are guilty of criminal conduct, claim that they have been the victims of “false” charges, fuelled by injustices. The long-awaited verdict of the jailed separatist leaders, thereby, represents a consistent struggle for the Catalan people. Whilst support for independence has dwindled in recent months, mass protests took place as a result of the recent ruling. Catalonia, a region possessing wealth, unique culture and languages, therefore, still illustrates solidarity against what Madrid has referred to as an illegitimate movement. Recently, and despite a decrease from recent years, over 600,000 people marched in Barcelona to mark Catalonia’s national day.
The response to the verdict has been overly critical, with people from all backgrounds throughout Europe criticising Spain’s judgement and handling of the political crisis. Despite damning reports from the UN, however, Spain has refused to capitulate to external interference and instead proclaims the crisis as an internal problem for the country to handle. Despite the complexity, what is clear is that the political and constitutional crisis will not be resolved by prison sentences. The crisis is deep-rooted and requires consistent dialogue from all parties. Importantly, Spain’s handling of the crisis is detrimental to strength and solidarity of democracy and self-determination not only within the country but throughout Europe.