Spain’s Attorney General, José Manuel Maza, says he will seek charges of sedition, rebellion, and misuse of public funds against separatist leaders for their role in Catalonia’s parliamentary declaration of independence on October 27.
The announcement came before reports that Catalonia’s ousted leadership had left the country.
Under the Spanish legal system, it is now up to a judge to consider the attorney general’s requests. The charge of rebellion carries up to 30 years in prison. Formal charges could polarise Catalan society further, since the issue of independence has been deeply divisive.
According to El País, the attorney general recommended charges against ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet to Spain’s National Audience, a senior court. Maza also recommended charges against Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, and a handful of separatist lawmakers to Spain’s Superior Courts of Justice.
The chief prosecutor also said he would seek preventative charges against the secessionist leaders who allowed the vote on independence to go through. The prosecutor did not specify whether these measures included immediate arrest and detention before trial, as reported by AP.
Shortly after the attorney general announced the legal maneuvers, Spanish news media reported that Puigdemont had flown to Belgium with five sacked cabinet members. There was no immediate comment from Puigdemont or his colleagues on the reason for their trip.
A lawyer Puigdemont hired confirmed the ousted separatist leader was in Brussels, Belgium. Paul Bekaert, however, said that Puigdemont had not gone into hiding and did not confirm whether the former regional president would seek asylum. “We’re keeping all options open – nothing has been decided,” he told Flemish public radio.
Before reports of Puigdemont’s travels emerged, whether or not he’d turn up for work Monday at Catalonia’s government’s headquarters in Barcelona was a subject of intense speculation given Madrid’s dissolution of the region’s autonomy over the weekend.
In the first such action since the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over the weekend temporarily dissolved Catalonia’s semi-autonomous status, imposed direct rule over the region’s government (Generalitat) and called for early regional elections to take place on December 21, 2017. This was triggered by the Catalan parliament’s (Parlament) declaration of independence on Friday, October 27.
On Sunday, October 29, hundreds of thousands of pro-Spain demonstrators congregated in Barcelona to express their support for the central government’s decision. Supporters of continued union waved Spanish and regional flags, called for reconciliation between Spain and Catalonia, and demanded the jailing of separatist political leaders.
Fears surrounding the potential for civil disobedience on Monday, October 30, of 200,000 civil servants employed by Catalonia’s dissolved administration, however, proved unfounded. Public employees returned to work and secessionist parties accepted Madrid’s calls for regional elections.