Hundreds of thousands of people – 750,000 according to municipal police – came out to protest on Saturday in Barcelona to demand the release of politicians and pro-independence association leaders who are being held in pre-trial custody in relation to the secessionist drive in Catalonia. Family members of the ousted government ministers and the leaders of the ANC and Òmnium associations read letters and messages that the jailed figures had sent from prison. Present at the act, held in favor of “the freedom of political prisoners,” was Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.
The speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell – who is also being investigated by the courts for her role in the recent unilateral declaration of independence voted through the regional chamber – took the advice of her lawyer and decided not to attend, having been released from pre-trial custody just a day before upon payment of bail.
The demonstration saw once more the streets of Barcelona filled with protestors. At 4pm, an hour before the march began, thousands of people were already thronging the streets.
Many of the attendees were wearing a yellow ribbon in tribute to what they consider to be “political prisoners,” including former deputy premier Oriol Junqueras and another seven ousted members of the Catalan parliament, who are all in pre-trial custody in Madrid prisons while they are investigated by the courts for offenses of rebellion and sedition.
The march was the most well-attended since October 16, when around 200,000 people (according to calculations by the municipal police) came out to protest the jailing of the heads of the pro-independence ANC and Òmnium associations, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart. The pair are accused of organizing and encouraging protests in September that impeded the Spanish authorities from carrying out operations in search of material being prepared for the illegal October 1 referendum on independence that was held in Catalonia.
On October 21, another protest calling for their release saw 450,000 people take to the streets of the Catalan capital.
Carles Puigdemont, the ousted regional premier who is facing similar charges as the members of his former government and has fled to Brussels, sent a video message to the protest, calling on citizens to remain “very active” and expressing his trust in that his jailed colleagues would hear the “clamor” of the people. “Let’s not let ourselves be frightened or constrained by those who want to impose the law of [Article] 155,” he said, in reference to the clause in the Spanish Constitution that has been used by the central government in Madrid to sack the entire Catalan government and suspend self-government in the region. “The Spanish state cannot carry on like this,” he continued. “The European community must stop looking the other way.”
His words were received with applause and cries of “President, president!”
At the head of the march were the family members of the jailed pro-independence figures, as well as the heads of the PDeCAT, ERC and CUP parties, all of whom are in favor of the secession of the region from the rest of Spain.