Former Catalan president defiant before trial over secession vote

Article published at The Guardian, February 5th 2017.

Artur Mas accused of criminal disobedience for holding symbolic independence referendum in Catalonia in 2014

The former Catalan president Artur Mas has insisted he has nothing to apologise for as he prepares to go on trial for his role in the symbolic independence referendum staged in the region three years ago.

Mas, who governed Catalonia from 2010 to 2016, will appear at the high court in Barcelona on Monday along with former vice-president Joana Ortega and former education minister Irene Rigau.

They are accused of criminal disobedience and breach of trust for holding the referendum in defiance of Spain’s constitutional court and could receive a 10-year ban on holding public office if convicted.

More than 80% of participants opted for independence in the non-binding vote, staged in November 2014. However, only 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.4 million eligible voters took part.

The trial comes as tensions escalate between Madrid and Barcelona as the Catalan government prepares to hold another vote on separation later this year.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Ortega and Rigau on Sunday, Mas defended the vote as a democratic exercise. “We’re going into the trial calmly and in good spirits,” he said. “We have nothing to apologise for. We stood up nobly for what a lot of the country asked for.”

Mas said they would not be cowed, adding: “We did what we had to do. We would do it again. Tomorrow we will enter [court] with our heads held high, and make sure we represent, with all possible dignity, the 2.3 million people who voted on 9 November and gave the world a lesson in democracy and national pride.”

At the time, Mas hailed the referendum as a lesson in democracy, while Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catalá, dismissed it as “a day of political propaganda organised by pro-independence forces and devoid of any kind of democratic validity”.

The vote galvanised those calling for sovereignty, pitting Mas and his colleagues against the Spanish government and judiciary, who both argue that separatists’ actions are in violation of the constitution.

Although Mas stepped down in January 2016 to ensure that his pro-independence Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition could governCatalonia with the support of the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy party, his successor, Carles Puigdemont, has vowed to push ahead with independence.

Read the full article here.

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