Prosecutors Javier Zaragoza (L) and Fidel Cadena (2nd L) during the trial of 12 Catalan separatist leaders at the Supreme Court on February 12 2019 in Madrid, Spain. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ EMILIO NARANJO
Prosecutors Javier Zaragoza (L) and Fidel Cadena (2nd L) during the trial of 12 Catalan separatist leaders at the Supreme Court on February 12 2019 in Madrid, Spain. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ EMILIO NARANJO

Madrid — A Spanish public prosecutor accused Catalan separatist leaders on Wednesday on the second day of their trial of having tried to use “human shields” to block police during their failed secession bid in 2017.

Supreme Court prosecutor Fidel Cadena rejected arguments by defence lawyers who said the trial is politically motivated, saying “anyone can have the ideas they want”.

“What is penalised ... is behaviour carried out over time which aimed ... at the subversion and rupture of the constitutional order, calling for violent methods through the use of the masses as human shields,” against police, he said.

Twelve Catalan separatist politicians and activists face years behind bars if they are convicted of rebellion or other charges for pushing an independence referendum in October 2017, in defiance of a court ban, and a brief declaration of independence.

Under Spanish law, rebellion is defined as “rising up in a violent and public manner”. But the key, divisive question is whether there actually was any violence.

Prosecutors point to “violent incidents” during protests orchestrated by two grassroots groups in the lead-up to the referendum.

Activists surrounded a Catalan economy ministry building on September 20 2017 while national police carried out a search inside to try to stop the vote from going ahead.

At least three police vehicles were vandalised and their occupants forced to flee into the building, where for hours a group of agents remained trapped by the crowds outside.

Prosecutors also accuse the separatists of fostering “acts of violence and aggression against police officers” on the day of the referendum.

Supporters of independence deny the accusation of violence. They instead condemn a police operation to shut down the referendum, during which voters were beaten with batons and dragged away from polling stations, images of which were seen in media around the world.

“It is not separatism which is being tried ... but the series of events which took place in September and October 2017,” prosecutor Javier Zaragoza said.

“Political activity is not a licence which justifies carrying out criminal actions,” such as ignoring the ban on the referendum by the constitutional court, he said.

Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s former president who fled Spain days after the independence declaration on October 27, is not among the defendants.

Spain does not try suspects in absentia for major offences.