MADRID (AP) – Ousted Catalan government members and lawmakers began arriving at two Spanish courts in Madrid on Thursday to face possible charges of rebellion for having declared the region’s independence.
Twenty regional politicians, including sacked regional government president Carles Puigdemont, were called to appear after the chief prosecutor demanded they be charged with rebellion, sedition and embezzlement following the Catalan parliament’s declaration of secession Oct. 27.
Spain took the unprecedented step of seizing control of Catalonia following the declaration and later sacked the cabinet, dissolved the regional Parliament and called fresh regional elections for Dec. 21.
Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium with some of his ex-Cabinet members, will remain in Belgium and not appear, according to his lawyer, which could trigger a warrant for his arrest and an extradition petition.
The group summoned includes Puigdemont’s 13-member former Cabinet and six parliamentary board members.
Puigdemont’s No. 2, Oriol Junqueras, was the first to arrive at the National Court. He went in accompanied by lawyers, passing by dozens of journalists, declining to answer questions.
The crimes being probed are punishable by up to 30 years in prison under Spanish law.
Puigdemont said he and six ex-ministers went to Brussels some days ago for “freedom and safety.”
Two of the ex-ministers returned to Spain and were scheduled to be among an estimated 15 lawmakers expected to appear. Four ex-ministers remained in Brussels with Puigdemont.
Besides the ex-Cabinet members, six regional parliament members are to appear before the Supreme Court in a parallel probe. They include former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, one of the leading figures of the pro-independence movement in Catalonia for many years, who arrived at the court shortly after 9 a.m. (0800 GMT).
About two dozen politicians and elected officials from Catalan separatist parties gathered at the gates of the Supreme Court in a show of support for them.
Assumpcio Lailla, a former lawmaker with Catalonia’s Democrats party, said she had traveled to Madrid joining around 100 other politicians and elected officials to show support to those investigated in the rebellion probe.
“This is an unjust situation in which they are being investigated for facilitating democracy,” she said. “I don’t understand how Europe can look away from democracy.”
The supporters greeted some of the lawmakers that are being questioned Tuesday at the Supreme Court cheering and shouting: “Freedom, Freedom” and “we are not afraid.”
Across the street, half a dozen protesters with Spanish flags were stopped by police. They shouted at the Catalan politicians, “cowards” and “to jail, to jail.”
This story has been corrected to show that the first name of the ex-lawmaker from the Democrats party is Assumpcio, not Assumptio.