Amid hightened tensions in Catalonia, the regional president has gone on trial for displaying and refusing to remove secessionist symbols from public buildings. Nine separatist leaders were sent to jail in October.
Quim Torra, the regional president of Catalonia went on trial on Monday amid claims that he refused to remove secessionist symbols from public buildings.
If found guilty, Torra could be declared ineligible for public office for 20 months. This would likely lead to fresh regional elections.
His trial comes after Spain's Supreme Court on October 14 sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy jail terms over an abortive 2017 independence bid. This set off a wave of angry protests that repeatedly descended into violence.
Several hundred supporters accompanied Torra to the courthouse. The 56-year-old politician refused to answer prosecutors' questions and only answered questions put to him by his own defense lawyers.
Why is Torra on trial?
In March, Spanish electoral authorities ordered Torra to remove separatist symbols and a banner that read "Freedom for political prisoners and exiles" from the Catalan government building ahead of Spanish parliamentary elections in April.
The banner allegedly breached institutional neutrality laws. Prosecutors also said that yellow ribbons that Torra displayed were "tools of political propaganda." The ribbons have become a symbol in Catalonia of solidarity with separatists who have been prosecuted or imprisoned.
Read more: Catalan independence - What you need to know
Torra ignored two deadlines to remove the banner before giving in just before a police intervention was planned.
Spain returned to the polls in November after the April parliamentary elections failed to deliver a strong government. Catalonia's regional parliament is mostly made up regional and separatist parties.
Tensions remain high in the region as Spain's constitution rules that the country is indivisible while separatists argue that they are oppressed by Madrid.
ed/rt (AP, AFP)