Two jailed Catalan separatist leaders start hunger strike

Madrid (AFP) –


Two jailed Catalan separatist leaders awaiting trial in a Spanish jail over their role in last year's failed independence bid by Catalonia began a hunger strike on Saturday, their lawyer said.

Jordi Sanchez, the former head of the influential grassroots ANC independence movement, and Jordi Turull, a former minister in the Catalan regional government, are taking this step to "raise awareness" of their plight, lawyer Jordi Pina told a news conference in Barcelona.

"I did not recommend this action, it is a decision of my clients and they have my full support," he added.

In a statement read by Pina, the two men accused Spain's Constitutional Court of blocking their appeals against their imprisonment from reaching the European Court of Human Rights.

Pina said he did not know if the five other Catalan separatist leaders jailed in the Lledoners penitentiary near Barcelona would later join the hunger strike.

Spain's Supreme Court in October ordered a total of 18 former Catalan separatist leaders to stand trial over last year's declaration of independence.

Prosecutors are seeking jail terms of up to 25 years on charges of rebellion or misuse of public funds over the failed secession bid.

The sensitive trial is expected to start in early 2019 -- more than a year after Catalan leaders attempted to break away from Spain in October 2017 by staging a referendum despite a court ban and subsequently proclaiming independence.

Nine of the separatists remain in preventive jail while they await their trial, including the seven at the Lledoners jail.