File Photo: Catalan leaders attempted to break away from Spain in October 2017 by staging a referendum despite a court ban. (AFP)
Two jailed Catalan separatist leaders awaiting trial for their role in the region's failed bid to secede from Spain said on Saturday they were starting a hunger strike to protest over their treatment by Spanish courts.
After Catalonia declared independence last year, Madrid took direct control of the region and brought charges including misuse of public funds and rebellion against Catalan leaders, nine of whom are in jail awaiting trial.
Two of the leaders in custody -- Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Turull -- announced in a joint statement that they had started refusing food to protest at the failure of Spanish courts to process numerous appeals in relation to their cases.
"We are not asking the court for special treatment. But we will not passively accept discrimination or unwarranted delays," the two men said in the statement.
Sanchez told Reuters in an interview last week that he was convinced he would not get a fair trial in Spain, but believed he and other separatist leaders would be acquitted by the European Court of Human Rights.
A Spanish government spokesperson said the jailed separatists would get a fair trial. "Only the judiciary is responsible for sentencing," the spokesperson added.
Tensions with Madrid have cooled since last year but the Catalan government continues to advocate for a referendum on leaving Spain, something the Spanish government has said it will not accept.