Spain's Supreme Court has ordered pre-trial detention for five leading Catalan separatists, as 13 were charged with rebellion over their roles in last year’s unilateral drive for independence.
They include Jordi Turull, the latest candidate to head the regional parliament. The others are former parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell, and former government officials Raül Romeva, Josep Rull and Dolors Bassa.
A dramatic day, marking a sharp escalation of legal action against the “independentistas” in the wake of Spain’s most serious political crisis in decades, saw one of those charged become the latest to say she was fleeing the country.
Marta Rovira, leader of the Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left) party, did not turn up in court in Madrid, explaining her flight in a letter. She joins six others in exile.
“Exile will be a difficult road, but it is the only way I have to recover my political voice,” she wrote. “Long live a Catalan Republic for all!”
Those charged with the same offence also include the region’s exiled president Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan region’s former president, Oriol Junqueras (from the same party as Rovira), and political activists Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, both jailed last year on accusations of sedition.
Jordi Turull, an ally of Puigdemont, narrowly failed to become regional president in a leadership vote on Thursday.
The charges relate to the roles the accused played in Catalonia’s referendum last October, and the subsequent declaration of independence. Both moves were illegal under the Spanish constitution.
Judge Pablo Llarena said they had “colluded” for years to plot for independence, against Spain’s legal and constitutional order. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail.
As well as the 13 charged with rebellion, another 12 separatist leaders will be tried for misuse of public funds or disobeying the state.
The court requested that 14 members of the previous Catalan regional administration pay €2.1 million, to refund the money used to hold the referendum and cover judicial costs.
Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium last year, criticised the court’s decision on a visit to Finland. “It is not right for a judge to do politics,” he said.
The former leader and his fellow separatists deny wrongdoing, claiming the vote gave them the authority to break away from Spain.
Friday’s ruling casts doubt over Saturday’s planned vote to find a new Catalan leader. Failure to do so within two months will lead to more regional elections this summer.
Catalonia has been under direct rule from Madrid since last October, when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded to the unilateral independence declaration by sacking Puigdemont and his government.
Elections were called for December, which saw pro-Catalan independence parties win a slim parliamentary majority – but they failed to win a majority of the popular vote.