Protesters demand release of pro-independence activists after 5 months in prison
Civil society leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart entered jail on October 16 for their role in the independence bid
People took to the streets all across Catalonia on Friday to demand the immediate release of Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, two grassroots leaders imprisoned in Madrid for their role in the independence bid—that, on the day that marks five months since they were preemptively sent to jail.
“It’s been 151 days since they are held behind bars for their political ideas: defending Catalonia’s right to self-determination,” read the manifesto by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), one of the pro-independence groups calling the demonstration.
Cuixart and Sànchez face criminal charges of rebellion, which carry sentences of up to 30 years in prison. When they entered prison on October 16, they became the first pro-independence leaders to be preemptively jailed. So far, 12 people have been held behind bars at some point during the investigation. Four of them are still in prison: Cuixart, Sànchez, vice president Oriol Junqueras, and Home Affairs minister Joaquim Forn.
“It’s been 151 days since they are held behind bars for their political ideas: defending Catalonia’s right to self-determination”
Catalan National Assembly
Cuixart and Sànchez gained prominence in Catalonia as presidents of the two main pro-independence civil society organizations, Òmnium Cultural and the ANC. These are the organizations responsible for organizing massive rallies every year on September 11, Catalonia’s National Day.
While in prison, Sànchez resigned from his post at the ANC to join the deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s party in an election last December. Pro-independence parties held on to a narrow majority in parliament. Yet, until now, they have not been able to appoint a new president and form a government.
After Puigdemont withdrew from his bid to reclaim the office, Sànchez became the candidate for president. However, as Spanish courts are not likely to allow his election from prison, pro-independence parties might choose an alternative candidate.
In a letter from prison, Cuixart paraphrased the African American activist Rosa Parks to encourage Òmnium members to stand strong despite Spain’s crackdown on independence leaders: “The more we gave in, the worst they treated us.”
On Thursday, the Spanish police raided Òmnium’s headquarters in Barcelona. The operation was part of an ongoing investigation on last October’s independence referendum. Òmnium’s headquarters, as well as the ANC’s, had already been raided last January.