Spain braced for more protests after imprisonment of Catalan leaders provokes outrage

Police clash with protestors following the sentencing of nine Catalan separatist leaders on October 14, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.

Alex Caparros | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Spain is braced for more protests in Catalonia as anger mounts over jail terms meted out to pro-independence leaders in the region.

There were violent clashes in Barcelona Monday following the prison sentences, which totaled almost 100 years to prominent separatist leaders in Catalonia’s independence movement.

Spain’s Supreme Court jailed nine Catalan separatist leaders for between nine and 13 years for their involvement in a failed independence bid on October 1, 2017. They were charged with sedition, and some of the leaders were convicted for the misuse of public funds too. Three other prominent figures in the movement were charged with disobedience but were not jailed.

Barcelona’s international airport became a focal point for demonstrators on Monday and at times, riot police charged at crowds using batons and firing foam balls, Reuters reported.

A pro-independence group called “Tsunami Democratic” tweeted late on Monday that it had begun a “cycle of non-violent civil disobedience” and said there would be more protests to follow.

‘Political prisoners’

Following the sentences, Catalonia’s regional President Quim Torra reportedly called on acting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to grant an amnesty to the convicted separatists.

Sanchez appeared keen to prevent the jailed leaders from being seen as political martyrs, however, and made several comments on Twitter about the Supreme Court judgment and separatism in Catalonia, an issue that has been a thorn in Madrid’s side for decades.

Sanchez said the separatist leaders handed lengthy jail sentences were not “political prisoners” but were “rather some politicians in prison for violating our democratic laws.”

The court’s ruling comes after a period of tumultuous and tense relations between the government in Madrid and the pro-independence movement in Catalonia.

A constitutional crisis was provoked in Spain when separatists went ahead with an independence referendum on October 1 2017, despite the vote being outlawed by the Spanish government and the Constitutional Court. An overwhelming majority of Catalans voted for independence although turnout was low.

Demostrators take part in a protest at Sant Jaume square following the sentencing of nine Catalan separatist leaders on October 14, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.

Clara Margais | Getty Images News | Getty Images

‘Repression’ and reaction

Needless to say, the sentences have provoked a strong reaction from those that are central to the cause for Catalan independence.

Jordi Sanchez, the former leader of the Catalan National Assembly movement, said on Twitter that “nine years in prison won’t end my optimism. Catalonia will be independent if we persist. Let us demonstrate without fear, let us move forward determinedly from non-violence to freedom.”

Meanwhile, the current president of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, said that “repression has come to stay” and that .

Independence has prominent supporters outside the political sphere too. The former coach of Barcelona soccer club Pep Guardiola (who currently manages English club Manchester City) said in a video published by the Tsunami Democratic group that the court ruling that was “a direct affront to human rights” and “unacceptable in 21st century Europe.” He also said Spain was drifting toward authoritarianism and said there needed to be “a political and democratic solution.”

Puigdemont, now facing a new arrest warrant, vowed to continue the fight for independence. In an editorial piece for The Guardian newspaper, Puigdemont said the court had “jailed nine of our colleagues for exercising their right to peaceful political expression. We will never back down.”

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