The fight for independence is not a new concept; peoples from all over the world and timelines have engaged in this battle for thousands of years. America gained its independence in 1776, and Scotland has been fighting to sever its ties with England for centuries. Now, separatist groups in the Spanish area of Catalonia are campaigning to gain sovereignty.
Catalan nationalists have complained for a long time that they send too much money to the poorer parts of Spain, through taxes controlled by Madrid. This region of Spain has a population of about 7.5 million people who have occupied the area for 1,000 years, with their own parliament, language, flag, and anthem. Although for years they have been holding peaceful demonstrations to promote independence, recently the protests turned violent.
The increase in aggression happened after nine independence leaders had been found guilty of sedition and given jail sentences. Catalonia’s former Vice President Oriol Junqueras was convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds, sentenced to 13 years in prison, and banned from holding public office for 13 years. Former Foreign Minister Raul Romeva, Labor Minister Dolors Bassa, and Regional Government Spokesman Jordi Turull were convicted of the same, handed 12 years imprisonment, and also banned from holding office for 12 years. Others had lesser sentences, but still several years in prison and barred from holding future office.
Minutes after the court ruling, the people took to the streets, protesting in outrage. A peaceful demonstration was attended by more than 500,000 people in the Catalan capital of Barcelona, but violence erupted, and several nights of rioting followed. As of October 18, 207 police officers had been injured, 107 police vehicles damaged, and nearly 800 trash cans set on fire.
The Sagrada Familia Church, the area’s most famous landmark, was blocked by pro-independence protesters, and 57 flights were canceled at Barcelona-El Prat airport. The Spanish football federation had to postpone its Barcelona-Real Madrid game because of the disturbances. Roads were blocked by demonstrators, making it difficult for citizens to maneuver and businesses to stay open. At least 96 people were hurt as the protests continued across Spain’s north-eastern region.
The Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s highest criminal court, ordered the police to shut down the website and social media accounts of Tsunami Democratic, which is the independence organization that used apps to direct and coordinate protests.
Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont had fled to Belgium to escape being prosecuted but has since turned himself in. He led the region from January 2016 to October 2017 but was fired by the Spanish government for trying to make a declaration of independence. He is faced with the same charges as former Vice President Junqueras, of sedition and misuse of public funds with a sentence of 13 years in prison.