Arancha González Laya, Spain’s Foreign Minister, said the affair brought back painful memories in the country of other independence movements, including the murders committed by the terrorist group ETA, which fought for decades for the independence of the Basque North.
“They are not political prisoners. These are politicians who broke the law, ”Ms. González Laya said in an interview.
“The question is: do you have the capacity in Spain to express a different opinion? Answer: Yes. Do you have the right to unilaterally decide to dismantle the country? No, ”she added.
But David Bondia, a professor of international law in Barcelona, said the Spanish government is considering an overhaul that would weaken its sedition laws, which he sees as an admission that there was a mistake in jailing the separatist leaders.
The case of Mr. Cuixart was even more problematic from a legal point of view. He was the head of a cultural group, but his sedition trial took place within a legal framework reserved for politicians, Mr Bondia said, raising due process issues.
For Carles Puigdemont, the former president of Catalonia who led the referendum push, the situation is reminiscent of the era of Franco’s dictatorship, where political opponents lived in fear of persecution.
“For us it hit hard and took us back in time,” he said.
Mr Puigdemont, also wanted for sedition, fled Spain in 2017 for Belgium, where he sits in the European Parliament. But his parliamentary immunity was lifted in March, allowing him to be extradited.