UPDATES INFO, QUOTES, CHANGES DECK
By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) - Twelve Catalan separatist leaders have been charged with crimes including sedition, disobedience and the misuse of public funds, Spain’s Supreme Court announced on Monday.
Seven politicians and two activists will serve between nine and 13 years for their roles in the failed attempt to gain independence from Spain two years ago.
"We reject the sentence… it’s an insult to democracy," said Catalan Premier Quim Torra, reacting to the sentence, and added: "We reiterate our promise to continue advancing towards a Catalan Republic".
Protestors have taken to the streets throughout the region of Catalonia, with some of the largest protests occurring in the cities of Barcelona, Girona and Tarragona. Protesters have cut traffic, including on one highway, but no major incidents have been reported.
"Today’s decision confirms the defeat of a movement that failed to gain internal support and international recognition," said acting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in a televised press conference, adding: "Over the next few days, the Spanish government will stay alert and work to guarantee the public order".
In October 2017, the Catalan government organized a referendum on independence, which was illegal under Spanish law. Despite a police crackdown on the referendum, organizers reported that 43% of residents cast their ballots, with 90% of voters opting for independence.
In the ensuing weeks, the Catalan government made a vague independence declaration, but Spanish authorities soon after suspended home rule and arrested the movement’s leaders. However, several leaders, including former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, managed to flee Spain and avoid detention.
Today’s prison sentences were handed out to those who stayed in Spain. The longest prison sentence, 13 years, fell on Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-premier in the region. He was charged with sedition and the misuse of funds.
"I won’t abandon my convictions. This sentence will only give us more reason to be separatists," said Junqueras in an interview with Spanish broadcaster La Sexta.
Raul Romeva -- former Catalan foreign minister -- Jordi Turull -- former government spokesperson -- and Dolors Bassa, the former labor minister, were all sentenced to 12 years behind bars. Carme Forcadell, the former speaker of the Catalan Parliament, received an 11-and-a-half-year sentence. Joaquim Forn, the former interior minister, and Josep Rull, former territorial minister, were charged with sedition and condemned to 10-and-a-half years.
The two Catalan activists who led separatist organizations but were not active politicians at the time -- Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart -- were both sentenced to nine years behind bars for sedition.
All the aforementioned leaders will also be suspended from holding public office as long as their prison sentences last.
Three other former government officials were charged with disobedience and handed approximately €60,000 ($66,180) fines.
The nine leaders who got the heaviest prison sentences had also been accused of rebellion, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years. Those charges were dropped, according to the Supreme Court, because the leaders did not directly call for "enough" violence.