Protests erupt across Catalonia after Spanish authorities detain activists
Tens of thousands of people have gathered in towns across Catalonia to protest against Spanish Government’s decision to detain and prosecute activists from the Catalan separatist movement.
Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart are being held without bail while they are under investigation for sedition.
The men were leading figures in the disputed 1 October independence vote, which Madrid has branded illegal. The men are being investigated over a protest on 20 September in which a crowd blocked Civil Guard officers inside a building in Barcelona, Catalonia’s regional capital.
Spain’s Constitutional Court appeared to back central government’s position on Tuesday, ruling the vote void. It had initially suspended the law used by Catalan authorities to call the referendum.
However, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull suggested neither the court decision nor the imprisonment of Mr Sánchez and Mr Cuixart was going to stop the drive for independence, telling reporters “surrender is not something this government is considering”. The position still stands, Mr Turull said.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau – who does not support the current bid for Catalan independence – said they were being held as “political prisoners”.
The air of defiance and tension carried into Tuesday evening, when separatists carrying candles and chanting “We’re all Jordis” gathered in Barcelona’s Plaza Constitució protesting Mr Sánchez and Mr Cuixart’s imprisonment – a move which many on the pro-independence side see as politically motivated.
The city’s municipal police estimated the number of people in Barcelona to be around 200,000, while protests also took place in other Catalan cities, including Girona and Reus.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has already signed a declaration of independence, but halted its implementation to allow negotiations as he called for talks to take place over the next two months.
Anna Martinez, one of the CDR organizers and a spoken supporter of independent Catalonia, said she never thought the Spanish government would take political prisoners. “It’s shocking. The situation has become very serious,” Martinez told the media.
Joan Folch lived in France for 24 years and moved back in September because of the political situation.
He said he was outraged by the imprisonment of the pro-Independence leaders. “Everyday the Spanish government gives us more reasons to continue the struggle,” Folch said.
The group of 50 met with a larger block of protesters at the beginning of Diagonal, one of Barcelona’s main thoroughfares.
Though the demonstration is blocking the traffic, drivers honked in support. Folch said the Catalan national movement is unique in that it has support from the political left to right.
By the time the CDRs and other groups reached the Spanish delegation, their numbers were in the thousands.
Demonstrators halted in front of the delegation and lit candles. Chants of “Freedom” rang out intermittently.