CATALONIA’s pro-independence leaders are finally to have their day in court – on February 12 at Spain’s Supreme Court in Madrid – after some spent more than a year locked up in pre-trial detention.

A dozen defendants – of whom nine are in custody with three bailed – will be tried for their part in organising the October 1, 2017 Catalan independence referendum, which was followed by a declaration of independence.

Spanish authorities transferred the nine politicians and activists from prisons in Catalonia to Madrid early yesterday morning, as dozens of supporters gathered outside, among them Catalan President Quim Torra.

“We are in the prior hours of a trial that will change our country forever and its relationship with the Kingdom of Spain,” he said.

“Honourable people will be judged for wanting to give voice to the people of Catalonia in a scrupulously democratic and peaceful manner. We are, therefore, facing a trial also against the right of self-determination of Catalonia and against democracy.”

Torra went on to reiterate earlier warnings that the trial poses a problem for the international community, especially Europe: “We ask the international community, citizens, governments, civil and human rights organisations, media and personalities committed to justice and freedom, who join in the cry of the people of Catalonia in defence of the principles and values that must make the world a fairer, safer and more free place.

“The problem of those prosecuted in this trial, the problem of Catalan democrats, is also a problem of the international community and ... the European Union. We are European citizens with rights and freedoms that must be protected by community institutions. Today political prisoners are transferred to prisons in Madrid ... We know that they should not be defended because they have not committed any crime.”

The most serious charges the accused face is rebellion, which can be punished with a prison term of up to 30 years. A panel of judges will issue an order specifying which witnesses will be called and setting out a calendar for the trial, which is expected to last about three months.

Dubbed the “trial of the century” by Catalan media, the defence team will make the case that the accused are being tried solely for their ideas, in particular Catalonia’s right to self-determination.

Raul Romeva, who was in charge of foreign affairs in the government of Carles Puigdemont – who fled to Belgium to avoid extradition to Spain – hoped the trial would refocus attention on the Catalan push for independence.

“We’ve sought to be heard for a long while, but they silenced our voices and image with jail,” Romeva said in a written interview just before he was transferred to Madrid.

“We see the trial as an opportunity to address public opinion and society in Catalonia, Spain and obviously at an international level.”

He said they were all accused of “crimes that European courts deny and that we have not committed”, adding: “That is why the only possible sentence is acquittal.

“A (condemnation) sentence will always weigh on history and on Spain’s future.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, a socialist who came to power last June and needs the support of Catalan and Basque pro-indy members to pass laws, said he favoured dialogue to give Catalonia more autonomy, but ruled out self-determination.

Romeva said Sanchez should be brave and make a viable offer to the Catalan parties if he wanted their support for his budget, which faces its first vote next month.

He said Spain would eventually have to come to terms with reality.

“Holding a referendum is not a crime … Denying reality will never fix anything … We’ve always sought and offered dialogue, and the answer has always been denial and repression.”