Spain declares guilty of sedition to Catalan leaders in historic ruling on offer of independence

MADRID: The Supreme Court of Justice sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to nine to 13 years in prison on Monday for their role in the failed attempt at independence for the region in 2017.

The other three defendants in the historic ruling on a prohibited referendum and a short-term declaration of independence were found guilty only of disobedience and not sentenced to prison. All the defendants were acquitted of the most severe charge, the rebellion.

Much is at stake, both for Spain and for its richest region in this trial for an impulse of independence that attracted worldwide attention, triggered the largest political crisis in Spain in decades and baffled the financial markets.

The main questions are how the separatists will react to the verdicts, if the promise of peaceful protests is fulfilled and if the reputation of Spain and the separatist movement could be affected and how.

Both the government and the separatists distributed their own video on social networks before the verdict. The separatists say they have done nothing wrong and that the trial was political, the government says the trial strictly followed the law.

The only verdict that we will accept is the acquittal, the center-right separatist party of the former leader said in a video.

The government video itself showed several ministers defending Spain's democratic system. The interim prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, tweeted the video, with a message describing Spain as one of the freest and safest countries in the world.

The longest prison sentence was for former Catalan deputy Oriol Junqueras, who received 13 years.

Four of the leaders were convicted of embezzlement of public funds.

Separatist protests have been largely peaceful, but police sources have said authorities are prepared for possible violence.

The government has said it is ready to take direct control of Catalonia, as it did briefly in 2017, if the leaders of the movement violate the law.

The ruling is likely to mark a national election on November 10, the fourth in Spain in four years, scheduled for November 10, and influence the direction taken by the separatist movement.

An opinion poll in July showed that 48.3% of Catalans were against secession and 44.0% in favor.