Half a million pro-independence protestors marched in the streets of Barcelona during a general strike on Friday, still angry over sentences handed down Monday to the leaders of Catalan separatist movement. According to the Associated Press, more than 200 people have been reported injured over the five days of demonstrations and nearly 100 have been arrested.
Two years ago this October, Catalonians clashed with police as they attempted to go to the polls and vote in a referendum on whether or not to secede from Spain. The country’s Supreme Court announced heavy prison sentences for nine of the independence campaign’s most outspoken supporters on Monday.
Oriol Junqueras, the former deputy leader of Catalonia, received the harshest sentence: 13 years in prison. Eight others were convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds for promoting an independence referendum in 2017; none were sentenced to fewer than nine years. Three others were found guilty of “disobedience” and will serve no jail time. All 12 proclaimed their innocence.
Que todo el mundo vea estas imágenes. Gente sentada, quieta. La policia inicia la carga. Barcelona está tomada por gente armada y muy violenta. pic.twitter.com/g1yc5KeYQa
— Albano-Dante Fachin (@AlbanoDante76) October 18, 2019
At the same time, the court issued a new arrest warrant for former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who has lived in exile in Brussels since the October 2017 referendum. At a press conference after the news of the sentences broke, Puigdemont declared the court’s verdict “confirms the strategy of repression and revenge against all those citizens who have sought the path of democracy to make their will possible… By condemning them, they condemn more than two million people who made possible the self-determination referendum.”
He went on to chastise European leaders for failing to stand in solidarity with those Catalonians calling for independence. “Their silence contributes toward the irreversible erosion of a Spanish democracy. The Europe that says nothing in the face of the Turkish atrocities against the Kurds is the same Europe that kept quiet when the police in a member state used terrifying violence as they attacked people going to vote,” Puigdemont said.
Protests have roiled in Barcelona and the region at large since the news on Monday. Police in riot gear were captured clashing with pro-independence protestors at Barcelona’s international airport, where 108 flights were canceled on Monday, according to the Spanish airport authority Aena. The U.S. State Department issued a security alert for Barcelona on Thursday, warning, “There is a high potential for more clashes.”
FC Barcelona, which was scheduled to meet Real Madrid on October 26 for “El Clásico” — the biggest match of the year — condemned the court’s decision. Together, the two teams and the league called for the match to be rescheduled amidst the protests.
FC Barcelona and the Catalan football federation condemned the prison sentences, and several former Barcelona players have spoken out in protest, including Pep Guardiola. “Spain lives in an authoritarian drift in which anti-terrorist laws are used to prosecute dissent,” Guardiola said.