CATALAN INDEPENDENCE

Eighty people wearing white suits and masks remove yellow ribbons in Catalonia

The members of a self-styled brigade to “free the region from the pro-Independence movement” took to the streets of La Bisbal d’Empordà at around 2am

The group removes ribbons in La Bisbal d’Empordà.TONI FERRAGUT / ATLAS

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A group of around 80 people took to the streets of a town in Catalonia last night to take down yellow ribbons and other symbols that represent support for the release of pro-independence politicians from pre-trial custody.

The group chose La Bisbal “because it’s a town with a high level of yellow plastic. We’re going to clean it up”

Wearing white suits, goggles and masks, the group – who call themselves on social media the “Brigades to clean yellow ribbons and ready to free Catalonia from the pro-Independence movement – met up at around 11pm in Cabrera de Mar (Maresme), and arrived in La Bisbal d’Empordà (Barcelona province) at around 2am.

Using large ladders, they set to work taking down the yellow ribbons and other pro-independence symbols that were in the streets, taking them away in industrial trash bags. The group chose La Bisbal, a spokesperson for the group said, “because it’s a town with a high level of yellow plastic. We’re going to clean it up.”

Their activities were recorded by a number of media outlets, and observed by a patrol car from the local police. The regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, arrived later, and asked for identification from the person who claimed to be the “coordinator of the initiative.”

Several local residents reprimanded the group, and told them that by tomorrow the yellow ribbons would be back in place, given, they said, they represent freedom of expression.

A number of pro-independence leaders and Catalan politicians – including the former leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party, Oriol Junqueras – have been in custody since November while they await trial for their role in the independence drive in the region last year.

An illegal referendum on secession from Spain was held on October 1, and a unilateral declaration of independence was passed through the regional government at the end of that month. In response, the Spanish government used Article 155 of the Constitution to suspend the region’s autonomous powers, and sacked the government.

Some of the politicians involved – including then-regional premier Carles Puigdemont – fled Spain to avoid arrest, while others were detained and denied bail, on the basis they might reoffend and that they presented a flight risk.

Several local residents reprimanded the group, and told them that by tomorrow the yellow ribbons would be back in place

The yellow ribbons have since become a symbol of support for the release of these jailed politicians and former pro-independence association leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, but have proved to be a point of conflict between citizens who have opposing views on the issues in question. Tense scenes have been caught on camera on beaches in Catalonia, while just this weekend a woman allegedly had her nose broken by a man after an argument broke out when she removed some of the yellow ribbons.

The leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, has called on the Socialist Party (PSOE) prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, to take a stand on the displaying of yellow ribbons in official spaces. In particular he criticized the fact that hardline separatist regional premier, Quim Torra, was wearing a yellow ribbon when he met with Sánchez in La Moncloa prime ministerial palace. “It’s inconceivable for someone to enter the La Moncloa palace with an emblem that insults our democracy and rule of law,” he said.

The attorney general, meanwhile, María José Segarra, stated last week that there “is no kind of offense in placing or removing” ribbons in public spaces, and added that both actions “form part of freedom of expression.”

Spanish prosecutors have stepped in to investigate how local police and Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, are managing the conflict. On Monday, prosecutors opened a case into a complaint filed by the association Impulso Ciudadano into why the Mossos and local police have identified people who were taking down pro-independence symbols.

English version by Simon Hunter.