'Hands off our young people' - Thousands call for release of jailed protesters
Some 4,000 demonstrated this week in Barcelona to condemn "brutal police repression" against students arrested during recent disturbances
"Hands off our young people" was the slogan under which some 4,000 protesters demonstrated in Barcelona this week, to condemn the "brutal repression" by police during recent disturbances surrounding the sentencing of Catalan independence leaders.
After Spain's Supreme Court last week gave nine leaders jail terms of up to 13 years for sedition over their part in the 2017 independence bid, unrest broke out in many places in Catalonia, with riot police clashing with protesters, most of whom were young people.
While many have welcomed the growing interest of young people for the independence cause, the presence of young adults, college students and even schoolchildren at protests has in some cases led to clashes with police in riot gear and wielding batons.
In fact, many of the disturbances on Catalonia's streets last week saw protesters building and burning barricades and throwing objects at officers, who replied with baton charges, and in some cases the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.
"You'll answer to the mothers," warn protesters
The potential danger to protesting young people, and even children, exposed to such hardline police tactics is what motivated this week's demonstration, in which participants shouted chants, such as "Lay a hand on our children, and you'll answer to the mothers."
Organized by a range of groups and unions from the education sector, the march through Barcelona's city center aimed to draw attention to and condemn the response of the police during the disturbances, or "state terrorism" as one of the organizers described it.
"It is absolutely disgraceful, it's a situation that could be defined as state terrorism against a public that only wants to exercise their rights," said Koki Gassiot, of Barcelona's Autonomous University (UAB), and part of one of the student unions who organized the protest.
Support for "44 political prisoners"
The indignation felt by the protesters at what they characterized as "police repression and violence" has only been heightened by the arrests of protesters made during the unrest, and the "44 political prisoners" who remain locked up in custody.
The demonstrators were keen to show they "stand by" the young protesters behind bars, who they say are victims of "disproportionate violence," and Daniel Crespo of the Catalan National Assembly said the authorities call them "violent" to "hide" the police response.
Arriving at its destination in Plaça Sant Jaume square, a spokesman for Mares i Pares per la República (Parents for the Republic) group told the attending crowd, which included many students, that "our young people are not violent, they are valiant."