Politics, World

Fresh from victory, Catalan president faces court date

Artur Mas summoned to appear before court as part of investigation into 2014 symbolic referendum on independence from Spain

Ekip   | 29.09.2015
Fresh from victory, Catalan president faces court date

By Alyssa McMurtry

MADRID

The president of Catalonia has been summoned to appear before a Spanish court later this month in connection with a symbolic referendum on independence held last November.

Artur Mas is the leader of the separatist Together for Yes coalition, which -- along with a smaller left-wing party -- won a majority of seats in Sunday’s regional election.

Now, just two days later, he has been told to appear in court on Oct. 15. Two of his aides have also been indicted and have had their court dates set for Oct 13.

The investigation into Mas is based on “openly refusing to fulfill a ruling from the highest interpreter of the [Spanish] Constitution”.

This is because even though Spain’s Constitutional Court banned an informal referendum on Catalan independence, Mas’ party pushed through the vote on Nov. 9, 2014.

Following the symbolic referendum, state prosecutors brought forward charges of disobedience, misappropriation of funds, breach of public duty and usurpation of powers. If found guilty, Mas could be barred from public office for up to 10 years.

Mas said that holding this symbolic referendum was the only option he had for democracy, after Madrid dubbed his attempts to hold a legal referendum “unconstitutional”.

After the referendum, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed it as democratically invalid. Since many in favor of Spanish unity boycotted the referendum, 81 percent of the result was in favor of independence.

Mas' frustration over the illegality of the referendum propelled him to bill last Sunday's regional election as a de facto plebiscite over independence.

Independence did not win the popular vote, but separatist parties did gain an absolute majority in the regional parliament.

Analysts have pointed out that these charges against Mas could add fuel to the independence movement and even revive him politically. The accusations have been subject to fierce debate over the past year, as prosecutors told Spanish media they felt pressured by Madrid to bring charges.

A spokesperson for the Catalan government, Neus Munte, branded the accusations “political”. Oriol Junqueras, a leading figure in the Together for Yes coalition, told RAC1, a Catalan radio station, that the accusations were just another reason for why Catalonia needs to be independent.

“We are before a democratic anomaly which some use to bring action before those who put out ballot boxes so that the citizens of Catalonia could decide over [their] own collective future,” Munte said.

Antonio Banos, leader of the left-wing, separatist Popular Unity Candidacy party, told Spanish broadcaster La Sexta: “I, personally, and the two million Catalans who voted, we also disobeyed. If they want to charge all of us, we'd be delighted.” His party holds the independence swing vote in the Catalan parliament.

Other analysts say that the law is the law, and Mas must face the legal consequences of ignoring the orders of the Constitutional Court and holding the referendum.

October 15, the day Mas will testify, corresponds with the anniversary of the 1940 execution of the former president of Catalonia, Lluis Companys.

Companys was executed by firing squad under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

At the beginning of September, the Catalan government announced that they would make the date a national day of memory for “civil war victims and Francoist repression”.

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