2,000 people protest legal action against last year’s Catalan self-rule vote

Judges say pressure to drop charges over informal referendum attacks their independence

Protestors in Barcelona's Sant Jaume square on Tuesday.
Protestors in Barcelona's Sant Jaume square on Tuesday.Albert Garcia

Around 2,000 people gathered in Barcelona’s Sant Jaume square on Tuesday to protest state prosecutors’ legal action against Catalan premier Artur Mas and two aides over an informal referendum on independence held nearly a year ago.

Mayor Ada Colau, a left-wing social activist who has never clearly expressed separatist sympathies, headed the protest, where she read out a statement calling the criminal charges against the Catalan politicians “anti-democratic.”

“The right to decide is inherent to citizens by virtue of the democratic principle and of our right as a nation,” said Colau, who won municipal elections in May with a loose coalition called Barcelona en Comú, which includes anti-austerity party Podemos.

We didn’t do anything wrong on November 9. We are the first people to want an independent judiciary”

Catalan Deputy Premier Neus Munté

Besides Colau, the protest also drew many separatist politicians from Mas’s Democratic Convergence party, the Catalan Republican Left and Junts pel Sí, the coalition that recently won the Catalan elections. Union leaders and several government officials were also present, including Deputy Premier Neus Munté.

On November 9, 2014, the Catalan government of Artur Mas held a non-binding vote that yielded a majority support for independence but whose validity was criticized.

Madrid declared the vote illegal, and state prosecutors filed charges against Mas, his deputy Joana Ortega and regional education chief Irene Rigau for their alleged role in organizing it.

Mas claimed that he was forced into holding the informal vote because the Spanish government had not let him hold a legal referendum. He and his aides are now accused of disobedience for ignoring a court injunction issued against that poll as well.

The legal move against him has been described in some sectors as politically motivated. Prosecutors in Catalonia had complained about pressure from the central government to file the charges.

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Meanwhile, the Catalan regional High Court (TSJC) has hit back with a public statement of its own. The move came hours after separatists held protests outside the door of the TSJC to show support for Ortega and Rigau, who were called in on Tuesday to provide depositions in connection with the charges.

The TSJC’s statement called these protests “a direct, unmitigated attack” against the independence of the judiciary.

Just hours later, the General Council of the Judiciary, Spain’s legal watchdog, issued a note of its own supporting the TSJC and positing that the protests were part of “a strategy designed and headed by public officials, some of them with roles in government.”

Catalan Deputy Premier Neus Munté said she was “tremendously surprised” at the TSJC statement.

“We didn’t do anything wrong on November 9. We are the first people to want an independent judiciary,” she said.

English version by Susana Urra.

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