200,000 protest in Barcelona against Catalan separatists’ trial

BARCELONA (AFP) – Around 200,000 people marched through Barcelona on Saturday against the high-profile trial of Catalan separatist leaders that started last week, which they dismissed as a farce.

“Self-determination is not a crime,” read a banner at the front of the protest led by regional President Quim Torra which municipal police said was attended by 200,000 people, while organisers countered 500,000 had taken part.

Demonstrators waved blue, red and yellow Catalan separatist flags and carried banners reading “Freedom for political prisoners.”

The trial of 12 Catalan separatist politicians and activists over their role in the 2017 attempt to break Catalonia from Spain started on Tuesday at Madrid’s Supreme Court.

They face up to 25 years behind bars on charges of rebellion and other offences for pushing an independence referendum in October 2017 in defiance of a court ban, and for a brief declaration of independence.

The independence bid sparked Spain’s deepest political crisis since the transition to democracy in the 1970s after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

Independence supporters and the defendants’ lawyers maintain they are on trial for their ideas.

“What’s happening is really sad. It’s a political trial, full of manipulations to sentence them for something that isn’t a crime,” said Jesus Rodriguez, head of a group of “castellers,” Catalonia’s famous tradition of human towers, at the Barcelona protest.

“They just want to lock them up and as they know that voting isn’t a crime, they’re inventing violence that never happened,” added the 48-year-old.