RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In Spain, a trial begins today for 12 Catalan separatists. They helped organize a vote for independence in 2017. Lucia Benavides reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
LUCIA BENAVIDES: Dozens of pro-independence Catalonians chanting liberty for political prisoners gathered outside of a prison in a small town outside Barcelona earlier this month as jailed separatist leaders were transferred to Spain's capital, Madrid. They're protesting what they believe to be a violation of freedom of expression after the Spanish government imposed direct rule on the region in retaliation to the Catalan government declaring independence, which goes against the Spanish Constitution.
The nine Catalan secessionists and three others that are free on bail will appear in court today in what is said to be the most important trial since Spain's return to democracy in the late 1970s. They face charges of rebellion, sedition, disobedience and misuse of public funds, which could bring sentences of up to 25 years. The separatists are seeking more autonomy. One of the main issues at hand is the control of taxes in the prosperous northeast region.
PRIME MINISTER PEDRO SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
BENAVIDES: Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told the Council of Europe last week that Spain is a modern and advanced democracy and promised a fair trial. A harsh sentence could fuel a Spanish nationalist movement, which has been growing since the conflict began in October 2017. Journalism professor Concha Perez Curiel from the University of Seville says this has given rise to the far-right party Vox, which entered mainstream politics in December when they won 12 parliamentary seats in the southern region of Andalusia.
CONCHA PEREZ CURIEL: (Through interpreter) Vox will unify Spain. They will save us from the bad guys. That's how the media has presented it.
BENAVIDES: Many are concerned that this populist movement is seen as a cure to the falling-apart of Spain. The trial is expected to last months.
For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.