Secession bid in Catalonia was 'coup d'etat': prosecutor

Madrid (AFP) –


Catalonia's 2017 secession bid was a "coup d'etat" aimed at "wiping out the Spanish constitution," a prosecutor said in his closing statement at the trial of 12 separatists in Madrid.

Javier Zaragoza told the Supreme Court this "coup d'etat" was an attempt "to substitute a legal order by another via illegal means".

The Catalan separatist leaders have been on trial since February 12 over their role in organising a referendum on secession, despite a court ban, which was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence in October 2017.

Nine of the 12 are in jail, considered "political prisoners" by supporters of independence in the northeastern region -- a claim categorically rejected by Zaragoza.

"We're not going after political opinions," he said.

The defendants are on trial for "having tried to wipe out the Spanish constitution of 1978" by using "violence when it was necessary," he added.

In a document published last week, prosecutors maintained the charge of rebellion against the nine defendants, a controversial offence that implies "rising up in a violent and public manner".

They also confirmed they would be seeking the same sentences they had asked for before the trial started.

Catalonia's former vice-president Oriol Junqueras risks up to 25 years in jail, the heaviest sentence.

- Never took up arms -

Defence lawyers, however, maintain their clients never took up arms and waged no violence during the secession bid.

Those who did, they say, were the police who tried to stop the illegal referendum from going ahead on October 1, 2017.

In some cases, they hit and shot rubber balls at activists who had massed in front of polling stations to allow the vote to go ahead, in images that shocked the world.

But Zaragoza said the violence came from the "insurrectional" climate created by independence supporters to make sure the referendum took place despite the court ban.

That prompted Spanish authorities to dispatch 6,000 extra police to Catalonia to try and stop the vote.

"Rebellion doesn't need serious violence nor armed violence," Zaragoza said, accusing the separatists of having "pitted thousands of citizens against law enforcement agents who were acting legitimately and on the basis of a legal mandate."

But the Spanish government's lawyer in the trial rejected there was rebellion, accusing the defendants of the lesser charge of sedition which fetches up to 12 years in jail.

"The use of violence was not one of the structural elements of the plan carried out by the defendants," Rosa Maria Seoane told the court.

She said there was a difference between violence and the use of force, which she described in this case as "active or passive resistence" on the part of independence activists.

The trial is due to end on June 12 with the verdict expected in the autumn.