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Catalonia’s bid for independence from Spain explained

The drive for Catalan independence has been boosted by the separatists’ triumph in a snap regional election.

The result backfired on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who imposed direct rule after the Catalan parliament declared independence on 27 October.

It is Spain’s biggest political crisis since democracy was restored in 1975, after the death of military dictator Gen Francisco Franco.

So will Catalonia become independent?

Possibly, but it would be in the long term. First come tough negotiations on forming a Catalan coalition government.

The election result is a landmark in the nationalists’ long campaign for independence. It proves – legally – the strength of support for their cause.

They won 70 seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament – just two fewer than their previous total.

So, a slim majority for them – but it is complicated.

For a start, there is rivalry between ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his jailed deputy, Oriol Junqueras.

Mr Puigdemont campaigned via videolink from self-imposed exile in Belgium – and it worked, as his JxCat party got the most pro-independence votes.

A triumphant Mr Puigdemont called for direct talks with Mr Rajoy, but the Spanish leader rebuffed him soon after, saying only that he was open to dialogue with the leader of a future Catalan government.

There is also an ideological split between JxCat and the left-wing separatists of CUP.

The liberal Citizens (Ciudadanos) party, or Cs, actually came top and it wants Catalonia to remain united with Spain. So it will be a powerful voice, whatever happens. But analysts believe Cs would struggle to form a viable governing coalition.

Mr Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) had a disastrous election, winning just three seats.

But for the time being Mr Rajoy will keep control of the region, because he imposed direct rule in October, invoking Article 155 of the constitution. That extraordinary measure was a first in post-Franco Spain.

The Madrid government said Article 155 was a temporary measure.

Mr Puigdemont and four separatist allies fled to Belgium to avoid arrest. Other separatist leaders were jailed, though most were then freed on bail.

They all face charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement of official funds. Guilty verdicts would mean long prison sentences, but it is not clear how far the Spanish prosecution will go.

How did we get here?

Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest and most productive regions and has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years.

Before the Spanish Civil War it enjoyed broad autonomy but that was suppressed under Gen Franco.

When Franco died, the region was granted autonomy again under the 1978 constitution and prospered as part of the new, democratic Spain.

A 2006 statute granted even greater powers, boosting Catalonia’s financial clout and describing it as a “nation”, but Spain’s Constitutional Court reversed much of this in 2010.

The 2008 financial crash and Spanish public spending cuts fuelled local resentment and separatism.

Following a symbolic referendum in November 2014, outlawed by Spain, separatists won the 2015 regional election and went on to win a full referendum on 1 October 2017, which was also banned and boycotted by supporters of the union.

Turnout in the referendum was only 43%.

The sight of Spanish national police beating voters, and politicians being jailed, revived disturbing memories, for some, of the Franco dictatorship.

In a febrile atmosphere the separatist majority in the Catalan parliament declared independence on 27 October.

Using the Article 155 emergency powers, Madrid then called the snap election for 21 December.

Some argue that if Madrid made concessions, such as restoring the 2006 autonomy statute, it could defuse the crisis.

Does Catalonia have a good claim to nationhood?

It is certainly long-lived. It has its own language and distinctive traditions, and a population nearly as big as Switzerland’s (7.5 million).

It is also a vital part of the Spanish state, locked in since the 15th Century, and – according to supporters of independence – subjected periodically to repressive campaigns to make it “more Spanish”.

During this crisis, however, the Catalan economy has suffered. Thousands of businesses, including major banks and energy firms, have moved their headquarters out of the region.

The EU has treated the crisis as an internal matter for Spain, deaf to the separatists’ pleas for support.

Internationally it would be hard for Catalonia to win recognition. New states mostly emerge from situations where ethnic groups have been victims of genocide or other major human rights abuses.

Kosovo was a huge humanitarian crisis for Europe – even so, many countries refuse to recognise it as independent.

What does Catalonia mean to the rest of Spain?

Depending on your view, Barcelona is primarily either Catalonia’s capital or Spain’s second city.

It has become one of the EU’s best-loved city break destinations, famed for its 1992 Summer Olympics, trade fairs, football and tourism.

Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, making up 16% of the national population and accounting for almost 19% of Spanish GDP.

Generations of people from poorer parts of Spain have moved there for work, forming strong family bonds with regions such as Andalusia.

Does Madrid really milk Catalonia?

There is a widespread feeling that the central government takes much more than it gives back.

But the complexity of budget transfers makes it hard to judge exactly how much more Catalans contribute in taxes than they get back from investment in services, such as schools and hospitals.

According to 2014 figures, Catalonia paid about €10bn (£9bn; $12bn) more to Spain’s tax authorities than it received in spending – the equivalent of 5% of its GDP.

Meanwhile, state investment in Catalonia has dropped: the 2015 draft national budget allocated 9.5% to Catalonia – compared with nearly 16% in 2003.

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More: BBC news

Catalan separatists win absolute majority in election

Catalan separatists won a crucial snap poll Thursday, plunging their region into further uncertainty after a failed independence bid rattled Europe and triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

With turnout at a record high and over 90 percent of the ballots counted, the election handed a mandate back to the region’s ousted separatist leaders, even after they campaigned from exile and behind bars.

In a clear indicator of the huge gulf over independence afflicting Catalan society, anti-secessionist centrist party Ciudadanos was meanwhile on course to win the biggest individual result.

But unless the three pro-independence lists fail to clinch a deal to work together in the coming months, they will rule Catalonia with 70 percent of the 135 seats in parliament – two less than their previous tally of 72.

For Catalans on both sides of the divide the day had been a moment of truth, following weeks of upheaval and protests unseen since democracy was reinstated following the death in 1975 of dictator Francisco Franco.

Upset for Rajoy

The Spanish government called the election after it took the unprecedented step of stripping Catalonia of its treasured autonomy in the aftermath of an independence declaration on October 27 that rattled a Europe already shaken by Brexit.

At stake was the economy of a region that has seen its tourism sector suffer and more than 3,100 companies – including the largest banks, utilities and insurers – move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia since the referendum.

The declaration came weeks after a banned independence referendum on October 1, which saw a police crackdown that sent shockwaves around the world.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his conservative cabinet tried to nip the independence movement in the bud, sacking the regional government and dissolving its parliament.

In a further obstacle for the separatist cause, the judiciary pressed charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds against the secessionist leaders.

Ousted regional president Carles Puigdemont, who had fled to Belgium where he tried to rally international support for the separatist cause, has not since returned to Spain, where he faces arrest.

His Together for Catalonia list nonetheless looked set to secure the best result of the three separatist groupings — in a major upset for Rajoy’s government.

Surreal campaign

Unlike Puigdemont, his former deputy Oriol Junqueras and three other separatist leaders stayed behind, and were remanded in custody on November 2.

They campaigned for votes from exile and behind bars, with Junqueras sending messages to voters in handwritten letters shared on Twitter, a trickle of phone calls and interviews, and even poems.

“Practically and emotionally, it has been a very difficult election campaign. We didn’t have our candidate here, (ousted) president Puigdemont was in exile in Brussels, and number two on the list, Jordi Sanchez, was in prison,” said Elsa Artadi, Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia list campaign manager.

Sergi Sebria, spokesman for Junqueras’s ERC party, said his party had had to face the election “in the worst conditions, in absolutely unequal conditions, with its candidate in prison until the last day.

“Despite this we have done everything with hope,” he said, adding that “a high turnout legitimises the election result.”

Crucially, the pro-independence camp is not expected to attempt another breakaway from Spain but rather try to enter into negotiations with Madrid.

SBS news

Catalan elections: Pro-indy parties win majority against all odds

THE people of Catalonia have delivered a pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament after Spain’s disastrous gamble backfired.

With 95.64 per cent of the votes counted, the pro-independence bloc – Junts per Catalunya, led by ousted president Carles Puigdemont, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, and the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular – were set to secure 70 seats and a majority of two over their rivals.

The historic result was delivered despite several major political leaders being either in exile or in jail.

An aide of Puigdemont, who has been forced to remain in Brussels, sent a message to journalists shortly after the results came in. It said: “As you see, we are the comeback kids.”

The anti-independence party Cuitadans (Cs) were set to be the largest group in the parliament, but their path to the majority needed to form a government looked impossible. Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular failed dismally to attract support after the Spanish Prime Minister applied direct rule from Spain.

The pro-independence parties narrowly failed to deliver an overall majority in the popular vote, falling just short of 50 per cent.

A record turnout was recorded as 83.82 per cent of the 5.3 million eligible voters at the time we went to print. The result smashed the

well-publicised notion that there was a “silent majority” of Catalans who were ready to speak up to reject independence. Instead, the people delivered, again, a majority of parliamentarians in favour of an independent Catalan republic.

The Catalunya en Comú party, who were projected to win eight seats, are neutral on the constitutional question, would not vote for a unionist coalition and would possibly abstain if a pro-independence coalition was put forward. Catalunya en Comú are in favour of self-determination for Catalonia but not independence.

Long queues were seen outside many of the near 2700 polling stations from when they opened at 8am local time, with a turnout of 34.5 per cent recorded by midday. By 6pm voter turnout was up on the previous regional vote in 2015.

The Catalan parliament was dissolved by the government in Madrid following an independence referendum on October 1, with Spanish authorities deeming the poll illegal. The result of that referendum showed overwhelming support of 92 per cent in favour of Catalonia leaving Spain, with regional lawmakers making a unilateral declaration of independence on October 27.

The Madrid government responded by firing the regional government and dissolving the Catalan parliament. The courts then ordered the arrest of the former Catalan leaders.

Fresh parliamentary elections were then called for yesterday, with many seeing it as a de facto referendum on independence.

Campaigning in the weeks building up to the election had little to do with regional policy and focused mainly on the recent push for independence that brought Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

It had been deemed an election too close to call definitively when the last of The National’s world exclusive polls was published on Wednesday night, but the prediction of a narrow pro-indy majority proved to be accurate.

A lot was made about undecided voters holding significant sway in the election, with others, reminiscent of the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, pointing to a potential “silent majority” ready to come out in favour of keeping Catalonia in Spain.

In a marked contrast to the previous polling day on October 1, when the Generalitat de Catalunya – the region’s parliament – held an independence referendum, voting passed peacefully. That day in early October was marred by shocking images of police brutality, but the voters The National interviewed yesterday spoke of their joy at being able to vote in the absence of such violence.

“Long lines to vote. Glad to be able to do it without police threat,” said Mario Gili Carulla.

“Strange feeling today, we don’t have to protect ballot boxes and we are not beaten,” added Helen.

Another Catalan resident, Eugenia, echoed those sentiments while calling for help from around the continent.

“I voted this morning around 9:15 without fear that the police would hit me,” she said. “I voted for our legitimate president Carles Puigdemont. I hope that he can return to Catalonia and we can be a new country in the EU as soon as possible. Spain is an anti-democratic and authoritarian country. We need the help of the rest of Europe.”

Puigdemont, the ousted Catalan President, has remained in exile in Belgium since the end of October and has criticised Mariano Rajoy for his handling of the situation.

The Spanish Prime Minister issued an arrest warrant for Puigdemont, though this did not stop him from both running as leader of Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) party, as well as voting by proxy.

The National

Thousands of protesters have gathered in Brussels in support of deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont

Catalan protesters have gathered in Brussels to show support for deposed president Carles Puigdemont and urge the EU to support their drive for independence from Spain.

Chanting “Wake up Europe!” and waving Catalonia’s red, yellow and blue Estelada separatist flag, demonstrators gathered in a park near the headquarters of the European Union ahead of a march through the Belgian capital.

“We cannot abandon our president, who is in exile here,” Antoni Llenas, 59, a protester wearing a flag over his shoulders, told AFP. “We are here to continue the struggle for our independence and to ask for the freedom of our political prisoners.”

Belgian police were on hand but the early stages of the protest were peaceful, AFP reporters said.

Puigdemont and four former ministers fled to Brussels in November, saying they wanted to take their cause to a European level after Spain charged them with sedition and rebellion over Catalonia’s independence referendum in October.

Madrid dropped a European arrest warrant for the five on Monday but Puigdemont said he would stay put for now as they still face arrest in Spain if they return for snap regional polls in Catalonia on December 21.

Organisers said they expected around 20,000 people to attend Thursday’s march.

Protesters arrived in a stream of coaches and camper vans with Spanish registration plates and gathered in the Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels’ European quarter before the start of the march at 1030 GMT.

Their route will take them past the headquarters of the European Commission and end up in a square between the European Council and European Parliament, the three main EU institutions.

The EU has strongly backed the Spanish government over the Catalan issue, saying that it is an internal matter for Madrid.

Source: AFP – SBS news Australia

Protest to demand the release of Catalan political leaders

The Catalan Associations of Australia will be holding a protest in support of the demonstration “Omplim Brussel·les” (“Let’s fill up Brussels), to be held in Brussels today December 7.

This event has emerged from a citizen initiative promoted via social media that collected more than 90,000 supporters in less than one week and that has resulted in the call for a demonstration by the Catalan National Assembly and Òmnium Cultural. Its aim is to demand the release of the Catalan political prisoners currently in jail for defending the creation of the Catalan Republic.

The Catalan communities in Australia have worked together to support this initiative and carry out coordinated protests in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.

Demonstration in support of Catalan polítical prisoners in front of the Spanish consulate in Melbourne. Photo: Casal Català de Victòria Inc.

Catalans, wherever they may be, reject the current situation in Catalonia, where there are now 10 people jailed for political reasons, a president in exile and unjust policies being applied that currently damaging our institutions and projects (among them, the Catalan Associations of Australia).

Please bring a yellow item/garment to the gathering to show you also reject the idea of having political prisoners in Europe in 2017.

Catalonian independence protesters flock to Brussels in show of support of Carles Puigdemont

They came by bus, car and coach, bringing their children and dogs, draped in the flag of Catalonia and with their yellow ribbon symbol pinned proudly to their chests.  Some marched with prams others drove their mobility scooters towards the park where Carles Puigdemont was due to speak.

Organisers claimed at least 50,000 Catalans had travelled the 1,200km to Brussels to bring the heart of the city’s European Union quarter to a standstill. Belgian media reported the number to be at least 20,000.

They marched en masse, some in mobility scooters, others in prams and several with dogs wearing Catalan flags, through the Brussels drizzle and past the headquarters of the European Commission.

“The weather is poor here,” said Joseph Teixidor, 42, a banker, “But the people are warm.”

Joseph, 42, his physiotherapist wife Laura Planes, 38, and their daughter Sara, 6, had driven for a total of 12 hours, with an overnight stop in France dividing the seven and five-hour stints behind the wheel.

Joseph said: “We are here because we want the EU to listen to us. Carles Puigdemont is our elected president and he is still our elected president.”

The European Union has greeted the Catalan independence movement’s cries for help with either deafening silence or solid statements of support for the Madrid government. Some protestors held posters of Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, with the word “Shame” emblazoned above him.

Joseph said he expected Mr Puigdemont to triumph in the regional elections but that Madrid would not respect the result.

Jordi Santivere, 51, smoked a cheroot while clutching his shivering lapdog whose coat had a tiny Catalan flag.  The bus driver had ferried his wife, Nuria Martin, 50, for 14 hours from Barcelona.

He said the moment he chose to back independence came six years ago. “You have to see the problems in Barcelona. The Spanish government is not good.”

“We are also here for our political prisoners. That is why we have come,” he added.

Eva Fernandes, 47, and Sergi Soler, 47 travelled in a group of five. They arranged their own bus tickets for a 20 hour marathon trek.

“Everyone except maybe one Spanish guy on the full bus was Catalan,” said Sergi. “There was a lot of singing.”

“But no sleeping,” said Eva, who told The Telegraph they had set off Wednesday at 11am and arrived at 6.30am yesterday morning.

“I have supported independence since I was born. My father did and my grandfather fought in the Civil War,” the hospital biologist said.

“My grandfather did as well,” said Sergi, a software engineer, who accused the EU of ignoring Catalonia.

Eva, who was pessimistic that the EU would listen to their plight, added: “We are here for the president, for Puigdemont and for the political prisoners.”

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the Spanish deputy prime minister, said the only reason the protesters were able to march in Brussels was because they were citizens of Spain, an EU member state.

She told a press conference: “They are exercising a European right derived from the fact that Spain forms part of the European Union, of precisely that European Union which they are criticising,” adding that Catalan politicians didn’t hesitate to “throw stones” at Europe when it did not back them.

“Having a Spanish ID card and belonging to the European Union is what has enabled them to go there and protest,” said the deputy prime minister, who is also acting as head of the Catalan government while direct rule is in place.

She took a swipe at Mr Puigdemont for campaigning from exile, saying that instead of going out to ask people for their vote, “some citizens have had to go and visit him” in Brussels.

More: The Telegraph

Puigdemont launches Catalan election campaign from Belgium

Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont kicked off his campaign for regional elections from Belgium on Saturday, saying voters must “ratify” their call for independence from Spain.

The Catalan region is holding parliamentary elections on December 21, after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last month dissolved the Catalan parliament and fired Puigdemont for his role in the independence referendum outlawed by Madrid. Puigdemont then fled to Belgium with four of his ministers and faces charges of rebellion and sedition.

“We Catalans demonstrated to the world that we have the capacity and the will to become an independent state. And on [December 21], we must ratify this,” Puidgemont said Saturday, launching his campaign from a hotel in Oostkamp, outside Bruges, according to Belgian daily Le Soir.

Puigdemont is running as the head of the All for Catalonia political group, which includes members from his conservative, separatist Catalan European Democratic Party and civil society, Agence France-Presse reported.

Rival Republican Left of Catalonia, led by Puigdemont’s former vice president Oriol Junqueras who is currently in custody in Spain, is leading in the polls.

Puigdemont criticized the lack of unity among separatist parties ahead of the December vote. “It’s Catalonia’s moment, not the moment of political parties,” he said, adding that the election will be “the most important in our history.”

Puigdemont and the four former ministers are waiting for a Belgian court to decide whether to extradite them in response to a European arrest warrant issued by Madrid. The court’s decision is due by December 4.

By SARA STEFANINI

More at: Politico

‘Political prisoners’: More than 750,000 march for release of Catalan leaders

Hundreds of thousands of Catalan independence supporters clogged one of Barcelona’s main avenues on Saturday to demand the release of separatist leaders held in prison for their roles in the region’s banned drive to split from Spain.

Wearing yellow ribbons on their lapels to signify support, they filled the length of the Avenue Marina that runs from the beach to Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia church, while the jailed leaders’ families made speeches.

Catalonia’s two main grassroots independence groups called the march, under the slogan “Freedom for the political prisoners,” after their leaders were remanded in custody on charges of sedition last month.

The protest is seen as a test of how the independence movement’s support has fared since the Catalan government declared independence on Oct. 27, prompting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to fire its members, dissolve the regional parliament and call new elections for December.

An opinion poll this week showed that pro-independence parties would win the largest share of the vote, though a majority was not assured and question marks remain over ousted regional head Carles Puigdemont’s leadership of the separatist cause.

“Look at all the people here,” said 63-year-old Pep Morales. “The independence movement is still going strong.”

Demonstrators gather during a protest calling for the release of Catalan jailed politicians, in Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday, Nov 11, 2017

Barcelona police said about 750,000 people had attended and many had come from across Catalonia. They carried photos with the faces of those in prison and waved the red-and-yellow striped Catalan independence flag.

The Spanish High Court has jailed eight former Catalan government members, along with the leaders of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, while investigations continue.

“I hope your affection reaches the families and friends of the victims of this cruel sentence,” Omnium’s deputy head, Marcel Macri, told the crowd.

The High Court last week issued arrest warrants on charges of rebellion and sedition for Puigdemont, who flew to Brussels after being deposed, and four other former government members who went with him.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled to release on bail the Catalan parliament’s speaker Carme Forcadell and four other lawmakers, who enabled the declaration of independence by overseeing a parliamentary vote. Another lawmaker was released without bail.

Forcadell left jail on Friday after agreeing to renounce any political activity that went against the Spanish constitution, in effect banning her from campaigning for independence in the December election.

Those terms threaten to undermine the independence movement just as cracks are starting to appear and tensions rise between the grassroots and their leaders.

Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party has failed to agree on a united ticket to contest the election with another secessionist party, the ERC, denting the pro-independence camp’s hopes of pressing ahead after the election.

On Saturday, the ERC said former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, one of those in jail, would be its candidate in December and would campaign from behind bars.

Pepita Sole, a 61-year-old pensioner in the crowd on Saturday, said she understood the Oct. 27 declaration was symbolic but now wanted the real thing.

“They better understand that we’re not faking.”

More: SBSnews

Catalonia independence protesters block dozens of roads as general strike brings parts of region to standstill

A pro-independence general strike in Catalonia on Wednesday brought chaos to dozens of the regions’ roads as protesters blocked traffic with sit-down protests.

As early as six in the morning, demonstrators occupied over 60 roads across Catalonia, causing massive traffic jams. A large number of the protests centered on the main access routes in and out of Barcelona.

Catalonia’s transport authorities responded to the spate of blocked roads by issuing a general warning to travellers not to travel by car.

Whilst some road protests passed off peacefully, with demonstrators playing chess and cards on folding tables in the middle of motorways, there were scuffles in others when the region’s local police, the Mossos D’Esquadra, physically removed the protesters to try to allow traffic through.

Although the strike was originally to demand an increase in minimal wage levels in the region, it was quickly adopted by pro-independence associations and parties to protest against the imposition of direct rule and the incarceration of various former top nationalist ministers, including sacked regional vice-president Oriol Junqueras.

Trade union sources said that education was also seriously affected by the strike, with most of Catalonia’s universities close to non-operational, as well as a large number of schools.

However, despite the road traffic chaos, the overall level of support was lower than the previous pro-independence general strike, on 3 October, two days after a tumultuous banned referendum on breaking away from Spain.

Most businesses, shops and factories operated normally, as did the bulk of the region’s railways and airports. One exception to the rule occurred on the high-speed train link between Barcelona and France, where hundreds of protesters in the city of Girona, a Catalan nationalist stronghold, moved onto the railway lines chanting ‘Freedom, Freedom”. Another was one of Barcelona’s biggest stations, Sants, with trains stopped when protesters occupied eight different platforms until well into the evening.

The central government was dismissive of the strike, with one minister Inigo Serna, saying it had had “minimal support” but had given rise to “acts of vandalism”.

Pro-independence demonstrations to protest against “Madrid’s authoritarian policies” also took place across the region. One of the most important took place around noon in front of Barcelona’s town hall, a traditional assembly point for the separatist movement, where thousands of protesters demanded freedom for the incarcerated pro-independence ministers and leaders.

Meanwhile, as had been widely expected, today Spain’s Constitutional Court confirmed it had annulled  the Catalan parliament’s unilateral declaration of independence on 27 October.

More about: Catalonia Catalonian independence Spain

From Independent

Carles Puigdemont: This is not just about Catalonia. This is about democracy itself

Carles Puigdemont

Catalonia is right now the only territory in the European Union that has been denied the supreme law its citizens voted for; the parliament that its citizens elected; the president that this parliament elected; and the government that this president appointed in the exercise of his powers. Acting in an arbitrary, undemocratic, and in my view, unlawful manner, the Spanish state decided to dissolve the Catalan parliament in the middle of the legislative term, to dismiss the president and the Catalan government, to intervene in our self-government and the institutions that the Catalans have been building in our nation for centuries. It committed a brutal judicial offensive to bring about the mass imprisonment and criminalisation of candidates promoting political ideas that, just two years ago, obtained historically high levels of public support.

Today, the leaders of this democratic project stand accused of rebellion and face the severest punishment possible under the Spanish penal code – the same as for cases of terrorism or murder: 30 years in prison. The vice-president and seven Catalan government ministers have been in prison since last Thursday, as well as two Catalan civic leaders, while orders for the rest of the Catalan government to be detained have been issued. This is a colossal outrage that will have serious consequences.

Let us remember one key fact: in the elections of 27 September 2015, Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), the undisputed winner, stood on a manifesto where it explicitly pledged to declare independence and to convene constituent elections. The voters who supported us knew at all times what our purpose was. Yet two years after those elections we are accused of sedition, conspiracy and rebellion for delivering on an electoral programme that we never concealed.

It’s an odd conspiracy, one that receives the popular vote. The 2015 elections delivered a clear majority in favour of Catalan independence: 72 seats out of 135. Only 52 of the 135 seats went to candidates who explicitly rejected the idea of an independence referendum. Yet the legitimate Catalan government has now been outlawed, the Catalan parliament dissolved and a political agenda that has nothing to do with the will of the majority has been imposed.

This is why we will continue denouncing to the entire world the serious democratic shortcomings that are now evident in Spain.

Surely, what must prevail is the will of the majority of the citizens and the respect for fundamental rights included in international treaties signed by the kingdom of Spain, and also incorporated into its constitution. What we have instead are two levels of democracy in Spain: you can be a pro-independence party, but only if you do not rule. You will be charged with rebellion if you comply with your electoral commitment. And if you are against independence but you lack a parliamentary force to govern, the almighty state will come to your defence.

The Spanish judicial system has its own, particularly serious, shortcomings. There is a clear lack of independence and neutrality, with the links between the judiciary and the government visible for all to see. Even at the procedural level, the legal cases against Catalan leaders contain so many irregularities that it is difficult to believe that the accused can rely on any formal guarantees.

The state has demonstrated its determination to strip public officials of their rights, and Spanish justice has been placed at the service of the government’s political agenda. No crime committed in the name of the unity of the country will ever be prosecuted: not the violations of the secrecy of postal correspondence, nor the repeated restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, the blocking of websites without judicial authorisation, arrests made without judicial order, nor the certification of a police brigade outside the law to illegally pursue pro-independence political leaders and the Spanish left.

In demonstrations convened by the governing party of Spain, ultra-right radical groups (direct heirs of the Franco regime, such as the Spanish Falange) have marched, some brandishing fascist banners and making Nazi salutes, while songs demanding my imprisonment and execution have been widely sung. The climate of hostility is summed up by the scream, “Go for them!” from many Spanish citizens as they cheered the police patrols from around the state deployed to prevent the 1 October referendum, an effort by land, sea and air that resembled a military campaign to occupy rebel territory.

Does anyone think that the sacked Catalan government can expect a fair and independent hearing, uninfluenced by political and media pressure? I do not. We will continue to seek the independence of Catalonia, and defend a model of society in which no one is afraid of the power of the state.

I have a duty to demand justice for all of us. Real justice. To bring light to all the dark areas in which the state is allowed to commit unacceptable abuses. And to do this we need to allow in scrutiny from abroad. This attention must above all serve to demand a political rather than judicial solution to the problem.

The Spanish state must honour what was said so many times in the years of terrorism: end violence and we can talk about everything. We, the supporters of Catalan independence, have never opted for violence – on the contrary. But now we find it was all a lie when we were told that everything was up for discussion.

It may be uncomfortable for those who have given their uncritical and unconditional support to Mariano Rajoy’s government, but we will defend our rights to the end. Because we’re playing with much more than our personal futures: we’re playing with democracy itself.

 Carles Puigdemont became the 130th president of Catalonia in 2016

Catalonia  Spain

More from: The Guardian