The former members of the Catalan government, the former president of the Catalan parliament and two grassroots leaders face a combined 100 years in jail. Their offense: conducting a debate in the Catalan parliament, holding a referendum that was not outlawed by the Spanish constitution, and allowing people to vote on whether they want independence from the Spanish state.
They exercised their civic rights in a peaceful and democratic manner. And yet they were put on trial and sentenced for expressing and standing by their political views. That this happened right in the heart of Europe, in the 21st century, should raise serious concerns about the strength of democracy in Europe.
The outcome of the trial represents a historic error made by Spain. Far from putting the issue to rest, this judgment will only worsen the current state of affairs.
The Catalan government and the Catalan society as a whole have always pursued a democratic solution to the political issue between Catalonia and Spain. The Spanish government’s attempt to resolve the crisis through court orders and prison cells will never provide a solution to this problem. Jailing political opponents is not a solution.
There is only one way forward: dialogue. We have been working toward this goal for several years. The European Parliament and international intermediaries around Europe have also called for establishing talks between Catalan and Spanish leaders to resolve the issue.
Sadly, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is not committed to breaking the deadlock through dialogue. This became obvious after the state prosecutor’s office and the attorney general’s office — two bodies directly affiliated with the Spanish government — decided to charge Catalan leaders with rebellion, rather than the lesser charge of sedition at the start of the trial in February.
Some thought Sánchez’s premiership would deescalate the conflict, but we have realized, that the prime minister has neither the will nor the capacity to move things in a positive direction.
The government of Catalonia believes that a solution can be found through talks and ballots, and we will not stop in our efforts to pursue a resolution. Those convicted do not belong in prison. The Spanish government is wrong to criminalize voting and to seek to resolve the conflict through sheer force or the courts.
The outcome of the trial is undemocratic and has made a solution that keeps Catalan within the state of Spain even more difficult to achieve. It also means the issue is no longer a domestic one. The Spanish government’s use of the courts to resolve this conflict makes this a European crisis.
Europe and the international community should take an active role in helping to come up with a viable solution to the conflict between Catalonia and Spain. Either the world intervenes — or the conflict will intensify.
We appeal to the international community to speak up and to, once and for all, demand a democratic and negotiated solution. Fundamental rights are at stake in Europe, and European democrats cannot afford to remain silent.
The citizens of Catalonia should be able to decide their future by voting without fearing oppression. Democracy must prevail. The welfare of future generations depends on this, and not just in Catalonia or Spain. Europe, now it’s up to you.