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.
The announcement came just before reports emerged saying 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 polarize 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.
In a press conference on Tuesday in Brussels, Puigdemont said he will continue the struggle for Catalan independence from Belgium, and will only return to Catalonia if given “guarantees” by the Spanish government about a future trial.
The sacked leader also confirmed he was not seeking asylum in Belgium and that he would accept the results of the snap election Madrid called for December 21. He called on Madrid to do the same.
Puigdemont’s travel to Brussels followed Madrid stripping Catalonia of its autonomy over the weekend – the first such action since the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government 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. The moves were a direct response to the Catalan parliament’s 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.
Meanwhile, some legal scholars questioned the validity of the Catalonian parliament’s process. According to a column in Spanish digital newspaper Publico.es, the Catalan parliament’s vote is “a resolution without legal force despite having political value.” It also quotes Spanish legal scholars who say the legal manoeuvring is part of Puigdemont strategy to downplay the legal force of the separatists’ political declarations in preparation for potential legal battles in Spain’s courts. WikiTribune was unable to independently corroborate the information.