MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s Supreme Court is expected to announce its verdict on Monday in the high stakes trial of Catalan separatist leaders over a banned independence referendum, a judicial source said on Friday.
The ruling could reignite tensions over a secession push which, two years ago, plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in decades.
The verdict and the severity of any sentence, with the public prosecutor seeking prison terms of up to 25 years, could stoke protests that have been called for next week throughout Catalonia.
The 12 Catalan politicians and civic leaders are facing charges ranging from rebellion to sedition and the misuse of public funds over their role in the referendum and the short-lived declaration of independence that followed.
One prosecutor alleged during the trial that the leaders knowingly attempted a “coup d’etat” against Spain. The 12 said they did nothing wrong and insisted they were prosecuted for their political ideas.
When the trial got under way in February, the Supreme Court highlighted its significance. “It’s the most important trial we have had in democracy”, Supreme Court President Carlos Lesmes told reporters, referring to the country’s return to democracy in the 1970s.
A factor in the ruling will be whether the Supreme Court judges consider the referendum or the protests surrounding it and the independence declaration were violent and if they rule that the separatist leaders encouraged protesters to commit acts of violence.
While the secession movement in the wealthy northeastern region has been largely peaceful, the impending verdict has left authorities in Spain bracing for potentially violent protests to flare up once again.
Spain’s Interior Ministry has deployed police reinforcements to the region and provided larger security barriers for Catalan riot police to use, sources told Reuters, while Madrid warned it was ready to take direct control of the region, as it did in 2017.
Separatist parties have called for massive but peaceful “civil disobedience” if the leaders are not acquitted.
[This update corrects Lesmes’ title to Supreme Court President in par 6]
(Reporting by Madrid newsroom and Jose Elias Rodriguez; Writing by Ashifa Kassam and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Belen Carreno and Alison Williams)