Spain prosecutors seek up to 25 years jail for Catalan separatists

Spanish prosecutors are seeking a 25-year jail term for former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, pictured above. (AFP)
Updated 02 November 2018
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Spain prosecutors seek up to 25 years jail for Catalan separatists

  • The sensitive trial is expected to start in early 2019
  • The charge of rebellion has caused controversy in Spain

MADRID: Spanish prosecutors called Friday for Catalan separatist leaders to be jailed for up to 25 years on charges of rebellion or misuse of public funds over last year’s failed secession bid.
In a statement ahead of an upcoming Supreme Court trial, the prosecution service said it was seeking prison sentences against 12 Catalan leaders ranging from seven to 25 years, the latter jail term being sought for former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras.
But in a sign Spain’s socialist government disagreed, the attorney general’s office announced it would ask for just 12 years jail for Junqueras, accusing him of sedition and misuse of public funds rather than the more serious charge of rebellion.
The sensitive trial is expected to start in early 2019 — more than a year after Catalan leaders attempted to break from Spain in October 2017 by staging a referendum despite a court ban and subsequently proclaiming independence.
Spain’s then conservative government moved swiftly to depose the Catalan executive, dissolve the regional parliament and call snap local elections in December.
Some Catalan leaders like deposed regional president Carles Puigdemont fled abroad, while others like Junqueras remained and were put into custody pending the trial.
Apart from Junqueras, prosecutors want two influential Catalan civic leaders, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, and former regional parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell jailed for 17 years.
In a separate case, they said they were also seeking four to 11 years jail against former regional police leaders including Catalonia’s then police chief Josep Lluis Trapero, whom they also accuse of rebellion.
In its statement, the prosecution service said pro-independence leaders planned to use all possible means to achieve secession, “including — knowing that the state wouldn’t accept this situation — any violence needed to secure this criminal result.”
It said separatist leaders had instigated “big citizen mobilizations” that represented an “intimidating force” and had also used the regional police force, with its 17,000 agents, which followed their orders.
The charge of rebellion has caused controversy in Spain, not just among those who support Catalan independence but further afield among legal experts.
According to Spanish law, rebellion is “rising up in a violent and public manner,” to among other things “breach, suspend or change the constitution” or “declare independence for part of the (Spanish) territory.”
Military officers behind a 1981 attempted coup in Spain were found guilty of rebellion, for instance.
But many legal experts contest the use of rebellion in the Catalan case, saying there was no violence during the secession bid, bar that waged by Spanish police on October 1, 2017 as they tried to stop people from voting in the banned referendum.


UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 19 June 2019
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UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”