A DEFIANT Oriol Junqueras – the sacked vice-president of Catalonia – has defended the Catalans’ right to self-determination and told a judge that calling a referendum was not a crime.

His remarks came in a 40-minute appearance at Spain’s Supreme Court, along with Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of two pro-independence grassroots groups – on charges relating to their roles in the October referendum. In a statement, Junqueras told the independence movement’s bête noir, Judge Pablo Llarena: “Defending independence and promoting it is fully legal.

“Catalonia is entitled to self-determination.”

“We are facing a political conflict that needs to be resolved from politics and never judge it and much less criminalise it.”

He defended the dialogue that the Catalan Government had tried to promote on several occasions to reach a political agreement with Spain but added that the central government in Madrid had refused to engage.

Junqueras has been in prison without trial for six months on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

Responding to questions from his lawyer, he said the Esquerra Republicana (ERC) – Republican Left of Catalonia – party he heads has called for Catalan independence for decades without it being questioned.

“I believe in human dignity, in pacifism and in coexistence,” he said. “We are pro-independence, but before pro-independence, we are Democrats and non-violent militants.”

He described as “unacceptable” and “intolerable” the violence of Spain’s National Police and Guardia Civil trying to stop the October 1 poll.

Junqueras, who was also Catalan economy minister, also denied embezzlement and said he had spent “not a cent” of public money on the referendum.

He criticised the legal process to which he and others were being subjected – being tried in the Supreme Court instead of Catalonia’s High Court of Justice (TSJC) and claimed proceedings against pro-independence leaders were an attempt to “nullify” a political movement and infringed their political rights.

“My prosecution violates the principle of legality, since I have not carried out any action that can be interpreted as constitutive of the crimes included in the interlocutory,” he said.

Sanchez and Cuixart also criticised the violation of their fundamental rights, with the former – who has twice been nominated Catalan president and twice been disallowed by Llarena – demanding that Spain respect their political rights as directed by UN Human Rights Committee.

The three men accused Llarena of turning their case into a political cause.

Meanwhile, Junqueras’s contention that the Catalan Government used no public funds to pay for the referendum, was confirmed by Spanish Treasury Minister Cristobal Montoro, in an interview with the daily newspaper El Mundo.

Spain has controlled Catalan Government finances since September, and Montoro told the publication: “I don’t know how they paid for the October 1 ballot boxes manufactured in China. But I know it was not with public funds.”

Yet one of the main charges levelled against deposed president Carles Puigdemont and all his ministers is the misuse of €1.6 million of public funds. The Spanish Supreme Court says they misspent €1.6m (£1.3m).

Montoro also defended Spain taking control of Catalan finances, adding: “We live in a state that can budgetarily impede independence. And it is what we have done. We have also learned lessons for the future.”