Lawyers of Catalan separatists accuse police of ‘humiliation’

Madrid, Spain – Six of the nine jailed Catalan pro-independence leaders have asked for a three-week delay in their trial over the bid to make the region independent from Spain.

Lawyers representing the separatists on Tuesday cited “flagrant violations” of their clients’ rights and a need to study the evidence to be presented during the trial, which is set to begin on February 12.

The accused, including former regional Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, are charged with rebellion, disobedience and embezzlement of public funds in relation to the October 1, 2017, referendum on independence.

The referendum saw an overwhelming amount of voters cast a ballot for secession, though the turnout was less than half of the eligible voters due to a police crackdown, and the subsequent unilateral declaration of independence from Spain on October 27.

The alleged rights violations occurred last Friday, when nine of the 12 accused were transferred from prisons near Barcelona, where they had been held in pretrial detention for roughly a year, to the ones near Madrid, where they now wait to stand trial. 

The complaint was filed by Jordi Pena, the lawyer representing Jordi Sanchez, a civil society leader. Two parliamentarians, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull, said they were locked inside “very small compartments” during the three-hour journey, placing them in “unnecessarily dangerous conditions”.

The complaint also cited a video shot during the drive by the Spanish Civil Guard, the country’s national police force, and released on social media.

The video allegedly shows the police making fun of both the prisoners and their supporters, who had lined the streets during the journey

The defence lawyers have called the transfer of prisoners a “humiliating treatment”.

When asked for a comment, Spain’s Civil Guard referred Al Jazeera to a statement saying its Director General has suspended the officer responsible for taking the video.

‘Trial of the century’

The Catalan media has dubbed the trial of the 12 separatists the “trial of the century”, saying Spain’s treatment of the arrested leaders will have resounding implications.

In a statement shared with Al Jazeera on February 1, pro-independence Catalan President Quim Torra said the “trial will change our country forever and its relationship with the Kingdom of Spain”.

Sebastian Balfour, British historian and professor emeritus of contemporary Spanish studies at the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera he knows of “no analogous trials”, especially since Spain began its transition to democracy in 1975. 

Catalonia has its own language, and insists on its culture being separate from the Spanish majority. The decades-old independence movement in the region saw massive repression during the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975, launched a homogenisation campaign by outlawing minority languages and public display of minority culture.

Lluis Companys of the left-wing Catalan Republican Left, who was also the president of Catalonia from 1934 until1940, declared a Catalan state within Spain in protest against the right-wing government.

Companys fled to France after Franco took power in 1939, but “was handed over to the Francoist authorities from his exile” by the Nazi police.

“After a trial that lasted barely an hour, he was executed,” Balfour said. “But that was during a fascist dictatorship, not a democracy. This is a different context altogether.”

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