Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday sentenced nine of the 12 accused Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition over their roles in the region’s 2017 failed bid for independence.
The sentences were lower than demanded by the prosecution which had sought up to 25 years behind bars for former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras.
“The Supreme Court has condemned Oriel Junqueras to 13 years of prison… on grounds of sedition and the misuse of public funds,” the ruling said.
The three other defendants in the landmark ruling were found guilty only of disobedience and not sentenced to prison. All defendants were acquitted of the most severe charge, rebellion.
The separatists were charged for their role in organising a referendum on the secession of the northeastern region of Catalonia from the Spanish state in October 2017.
The former head of Catalonia’s regional government Carles Puigdemont reacted sharply to the verdict, terming it an “atrocity”.
|Who are the 12 Catalan separatist leaders?|
Catalan vice president: 13 years
Parliament speaker: 11.5 years
Grassroots leaders: Nine years
Regional ministers: 10.5 – 12 years jail
Three others: 60,000-euro fine
“It is time to react … for the future of our sons and daughters. For democracy. For Europe. For Catalonia,” he wrote on Twitter.
Puigdemont was the head of the Spanish region at the time of the independence bid but was not part of this trial because he fled to Belgium, where he now lives in self-imposed exile.
Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego reporting from the Spanish city of Barcelona said: “The significance of this verdict is that it doesn’t carry the full weight of that more serious charge of rebellion.
“That was apparently what one of the prosecutors was actually calling for,” she added.
However, Gallego said that it was still a “hefty” sentence.
All nine sentenced were banned from running or participating in public office – as well as the other three defendants who will face a nominal ban for 10 months, she reported.
“This is likely to cause a lot of anger among the pro-secessionists here [in Catalonia].”
Hundreds of students and civil servants have reportedly begun protests in different parts of Barcelona following the sentencing.
Worst political crisis in years
The government and the Spanish opposition, however, have welcomed the court’s decision.
“The sentence must be carried out and complied with,” Jose Luis Abalos, the acting public works minister told public broadcaster TVE.
“In Catalonia, there is a need for clear and responsible leadership on behalf of separatists.”
The leader of the opposition People’s Party said that Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez must affirm that he “will not pardon those convicted” and that he would on the side of the government “preserve public order and to avoid violent attitudes in the streets”.
The separatist leaders’ failed attempt to secede from the European nation had sparked the worst political crisis in decades.
Grassroots pro-secession groups have previously said that if any of the defendants were found guilty they would organise protests and “peaceful civil disobedience”.
Spanish authorities had deployed hundreds of extra police to the region in anticipation of the ruling.
With this verdict, the government will be hoping to turn the page on the crisis and resume dialogue with the wealthy northeastern region where support for independence has been gaining momentum over the past decade.