Nearly six months have passed since the imprisonment of the grassroots pro-independence activists Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, the last presidential candidate. They were arrested by the Spanish police for their roles in the roadmap toward Catalan self-determination. To mark the occasion, a platform made up of various organizations in favour of civil rights and against Spanish repression have called for a march to take place on Sunday April 15, in the heart of Barcelona.
According to two of the entities behind the protest, Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), there are at least 800 confirmed coaches to bring pro-independence supporters to the Catalan capital.
“We want them home”
Demonstrators will march under the motto “For rights and freedoms, for democracy and cohesion, we want them home”. The starting point is Plaça Espanya, a busy hub in the Catalan capital. Protesters will then head down Paral·lel Avenue in the direction of the sea.
The platform behind Sunday’s march goes by the name of l’Espai Democràcia i Convivència (the Space for Democracy and Co-existence) and is formed by a number of other groups aside from Òmnium and ANC, some of which are not specifically pro-independence. These include trade unions, parents’ associations, actors’ associations, youth groups and more. Among the trade unions are CCOO (the Workers’ Commission) and UGT (the General Union of Workers,) the main ones in the country.
Since the first imprisonments were made, many mass demonstrations have been called, drawing thousands of pro-independence supporters to the Catalan capital on a regular basis. On March 11, 45,000 people took to the streets demanding the release of jailed Catalan leaders, and then again, after Puigdemont was arrested, thousands protested in Barcelona and beyond.
One of the most-heard chants at the major pro-independence rallies is “the streets will always be ours” among others such as “freedom for political prisoners.”
In December last year, pro-independence supporters even arrived as far as Brussels to get their voices heard, where 45,000 people marched through the Belgian capital’s streets, according to local police.
One of the more notable demonstrations took place in November last year, when 750,000 people filled Marina Avenue in Barcelona.
Aside from recent protests called in response to the ongoing political situation in the country, Òmium and ANC are the organizations behind the annual mass march that takes place every September 11 in Catalonia. It falls on the day when the country lost its independence to Spain in the 1714 War of Succession against the Spanish army. Last year, one million people gathered in Barcelona to show their support for an independent Catalan state, according to police figures.
Prison as prevention
Before their incarcerations, Cuixart and Sànchez were presidents of Òmnium and ANC respectively. Now Sànchez is the presidential candidate for Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), the deposed president Carles Puigdemont’s candidacy. His investiture debate was set for Friday, around one month after the first attempt to swear him in as president of Catalonia. But a judge block it. Both Cuixart and Sànchez face charges of rebellion, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
Since the incarceration of Cuixart and Sànchez, other members of the pro-independence movement have been detained, and sentenced to preventive detention. These include the deposed vice-president Oriol Junqueras, and other officials of the sacked Catalan government, such as Jordi Turull, who was briefly a candidate for presidency before his second arrest. Meanwhile, other members of pro-independence parties, such as the deposed president himself, Marta Rovira from ERC and CUP’s Anna Gabriel, remain in self-imposed exile. They fear that they will not receive a fair trial in Spanish courts should they return.