Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Barcelona have taken part in a large demonstration against the imprisonment of Catalan leaders.
The demonstrators were protesting the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders who are also facing trial on charges of “rebellion”.
While the police said around 315,000 people turned up for the protests, organisers put the figure at more than 700,000, according to local media.
Catalan organisations Omnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) called these protests to mark six months since the arrest of two grassroots pro-independence activists.
The activists, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, were imprisoned for their role in the independence referendum in October last year.
Chanting “Freedom for the political prisoners”, the demonstrators marched along Parallel Avenue, a main thoroughfare, many waving the red-and-yellow Catalan flag.
“Since they could not decapitate separatism, they are trying to do it through the courts,” Roser Urgelles, a 59-year-old teacher, told AFP news agency at the protest.
“They need to demonstrate that there was violence to execute the sentences that they want, so they invent it,” she said, adding: “But we will continue to protest peacefully.”
Like thousands of others at the march, she wore a yellow ribbon to show solidarity with the jailed leaders, whom Catalan separatists consider to be “political prisoners”.
Last Thursday, Spain’s Supreme Court refused to release Sanchez, preventing him being named as leader of the region on Friday.
If a new leader is not named before the end of May, Catalonia will be forced to call another election.
Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was arrested by German police on March 25 after an international arrest warrant against him was issued by Spain’s Supreme Court.
Puigdemont was charged with misuse of public funds in relation to the independence declaration, as well as “rebellion”, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
However, he was released on bail while awaiting a court decision whether to extradite him to Spain. He had hoped to eventually return to live in Belgium.
|People hold a banner depicting portraits of exiled Catalan politicians during a pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona on April 15 [Josep Lago/AFP]|
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies