Spain Braces For More Protests After Catalan Separatists Sentenced To Prison

Oct 15, 2019
Originally published on October 15, 2019 11:01 am

Police and protesters were expected to face off for a second time Tuesday in Spain's northeastern Catalonia region, a day after the Supreme Court found nine separatist leaders guilty of sedition and sentenced them to up to 13 years.

The protests erupted Monday when most of the Catalan politicians and activists on trial were found guilty and barred from holding public office. Three others were fined and four of those who received lengthy sentences were also convicted on charges of misuse of funds. The high court barred all of them from holding public office.

Railroads were blocked by pro-independence protesters who threw trash on the tracks and then set it on fire. Demonstrations also swarmed major roads, bringing traffic to a standstill.

Thousands of Catalonia pro-independence activists try to occupy the Barcelona airport, after Spain's highest court handed down lengthy prison sentences for independence leaders.
NurPhoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Many flights were canceled in anticipation of protesters gathering at Barcelona's main airport for a second day of protests, including American Airlines flights to New York, Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Student Claudia Cusi was at the airport on Monday, where thousands clashed with police who held them back with batons and rubber bullets.

"We just wanted a referendum and the right to vote, and all that happened was that they ended up in jail," Cusi told reporter Lucia Benavides, who is covering the unrest for NPR.

The protests and Monday's court rulings that sparked them stem from an independence referendum held two years ago. Although turnout was low, an overwhelming number cast ballots for independence from Spain.

However, Spain's government maintains that the country's constitution made the referendum illegal.

Catalan lawmakers later declared independence. What followed was a tense standoff, the imposition of direct rule from Madrid and the arrest of the nine separatist leaders. Five other leaders, including Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, went into self-imposed exile.

The region's current president, Quim Torra, was elected in May 2018 with Madrid's blessing. Speaking at a news conference after Monday's verdicts, he said his government rejected the sentences and asked Madrid for dialogue.

"Holding a referendum is not a crime. It is not even considered a crime in the criminal code," Torra said.

Spain's interim prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said the court's decision "confirms the defeat of a movement that fails to gain internal support and international recognition."

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