Thousands of people marched in Barcelona on Sunday in support of Catalan politicians being investigated by the Spanish justice system for their pro-independence actions.
The local police placed the number of protesters at 80,000. Demonstrators waving esteladas – unofficial flags symbolizing an independent Catalonia – filled up Maria Cristina Avenue and cut off Plaza de España to cries of “For democracy,” “Independence” and “Out with Spanish justice.”
This is a long-distance race, and we are in the final stretch
Neus Lloveras, head of AMI
The pro-independence crowd was there to show support for around a dozen elected officials and 250 town halls across Catalonia currently under investigation by the Spanish courts.
Public officials are under scrutiny for actions ranging from organizing the non-binding independence referendum of November 9, 2014, to failing to fly the Spanish flag from town halls.
Participating in the march were all the high-profile politicians under investigation, including former Catalan premier Artur Mas and his aides Joana Ortega, Irene Rigau and Francesc Homs, who allegedly helped organize the 2014 referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.
Mas faces a possible 10-year ban from public office for his role in organizing the vote while Ortega and Rigau could face bans of nine years.
Other familiar faces included Carme Forcadell, speaker of the Catalan assembly, who is charged with disobedience for allowing a house vote on the sovereignty issue, and two representatives from the far-left, pro-sovereignty CUP party who have been charged with sedition.
Promoters of the march sought to portray the accused as champions of democracy whose only crime was to obey the will of the Catalan people rather than unfair Spanish laws, and whose fundamental rights are being violated by the Constitutional Court in Madrid.
Standing against giant letters spelling out “disobedience,” a group of Catalan celebrities read out a list of regional laws that have recently been struck down or put on hold by the Spanish courts on issues ranging from the independence drive to the ban on bullfighting.
Prominent pro-sovereignty leaders also warned Madrid that the protests will continue for as long as it takes.
“This is not just about marching on September 11 (National Day of Catalonia) or on historic occasions. This is about democracy and about our future as it began. The time has come for permanent mobilization,” said Jordi Cuixart, president of Òmnium Cultural, a pro-independence civic association.
Neus Lloveras, president of the Association of Pro-Independence Municipalities (AMI), noted that Spanish authorities have opened 400 legal proceedings against local officials in Catalonia over failure to fly the Spanish flag and other related issues.
“This is a long-distance race, and we are in the final stretch. It’s either a referendum or a referendum,” she said, alluding to the pro-sovereignty camp’s desire for a new, binding referendum on independence.
The current Catalan premier, Carles Puigdemont, attended a parallel demonstration in his home town of Amer (Girona) and said that “in Catalonia, there is a democrat in every corner” standing ready to defend the Catalan institutions and their elected officials.
English version by Susana Urra.