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Two years since pre-referendum mass rallies that led to imprisonment of leaders

Upcoming verdict on jailed activists will rule whether demonstrations were an “uprising,” as prosecutors claimed during trial


20 September 2019 12:39 PM


ACN | Barcelona

With the October 1 referendum still over a week away, September 20 two years ago turned out to be one of the most crucial days for Catalonia’s push for independence: Spain launched the first major police operation aimed at disrupting the vote, and pro-independence supporters responded by taking to the streets en masse spontaneously. 

While the Spanish authorities would fail to prevent the vote, which was deemed illegal, the events on that September day led to the incarceration of several pro-independence leaders, including activists Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart.

At 8am, Guardia Civil police officers conducted the first raid, on the headquarters of the Catalan economy ministry in Barcelona. By the end of the day, Guardia Civil police had raided a total of 41 official buildings, and had arrested more than a dozen government officials.

The first to be arrested was Josep Maria Jové, the deputy of economy minister and vice president, Oriol Junqueras. However, as the day wore on more names would be added to the list, including officials from the tax department, the foreign office, and the IT and telecommunications center.

Sept 20 key day for trial

Not only was September 20 a key day in the 2017 Catalan independence push, but also for the trial of its leaders held from February to June 2019. 

Prosecutors charged Cuixart and Sànchez with rebellion for those events, requesting 17 years in jail. Spain’s Supreme Court will announce its ruling in the coming weeks. 

The prosecutors claimed that the September 20 events marked the beginning of what they called an “insurrectionary period” and alleged that the demonstrations coerced public servants who were part of the police raid on the economy ministry. 

"It was a serious attack on the foundations of the constitution with illegal, coercive methods, using violence when needed," said a public prosecutor during his closing statements in the trial. The fact that Cuixart and Sànchez stood on a police vehicle during the September 20 protest and the fact that the cars ended up damaged after the rally were mentioned as an example. 

Yet their defense made it clear that the demonstrations were peaceful at all times, and that they only stood on the vehicle to call off the protest after several people had already been standing on the cars throughout the day, including journalists. 

Cuixart and Sànchez also pointed out that the vehicles had weapons inside that were left unguarded, and that the fact that no protester opened the cars to get at the weapons shows that the demonstration was peaceful. 

The activists defended the right to peaceful assembly to justify the September 20 events. 

Cuixart to “serve full sentence” rejecting offers to reduce it

Cuixart, said on Friday that he "will serve the full sentence" if found guilty, and will forego any offers to reduce his time served or to grant him day release.

The prison system in Spain includes a voluntary scheme in which after a certain amount of time served, prisoners can get special privileges or be allowed out prison during the day.

Cuixart told Catalunya Ràdio that it was a personal decision to serve the full 14 years should he be found guilty, and in relation to his fellow prisoners, said he "would never criticize anyone for choosing another option."

Demonstration outside police barracks to mark anniversary

To remember the events, the pro-independence organizations led by Sànchez and Cuixart at the time, ANC and Òmnium, have organized an event outside the economy ministry building in Barcelona for Friday at 6pm. 

Activists of another organization, the CDR, have called for a protest outside the Guardia Civil barracks in Barcelona at 7.30pm.   

Some hundreds of people attended, but encountered also a large number of pro Spanish union counter protesters who also showed up to the site, and both sides traded slogans and chants. The national anthems of Catalonia and Spain were heard, and met with boos from each opposite side. The police cordoned off both rallies and kept them separated one each other. 

Other chants included “fascists, out of our neighborhood,” and “Francoists, out of our neighborhood,” while another stated that the people will not forget or forgive the police violence of the day of the referendum.