In 2014, the ex-leader of Catalonia helped set up a vote on independence from Spain—and on Monday, 40,000 protesters stood up for him outside a Barcelona court. The New York Times reports on the start of the trial for Artur Mas, who was charged with civil disobedience for banding together with two other politicians to set up the past referendum, which ended up garnering a majority of votes for secession from all those who cast ballots. The nonbinding vote had been declared illegal by Spain's judiciary, and now prosecutors want to keep Mas and his two cohorts from running for office for a decade. The separatist demonstration outside the courthouse turned into a "pro-independence show of force," per Politico Europe, with Mas supporters waving banners and yelling, "You are not alone."
Mas conceded he did help the 2014 vote along—Al Jazeera notes he was Catalonia's regional leader at the time—but he insisted he was only supporting an initiative that tens of thousands of volunteers organized (and which was deemed illegal by the courts just days before the vote). Only about 2.3 million out of 6.3 million eligible citizens voted, but of those, more than 80% said they wanted to break free from Spain. Mariano Rajoy, Spain's conservative prime minister, and his government don't want the autonomous region to succeed in its attempt to secede, though one of his reps told reporters after Mas' Monday hearing: "No one is being judged for his political ideas," per Politico. Mas had earlier noted in court that "independence isn't on trial here, democracy is on trial," Al Jazeera notes. (Read more Spain stories.)