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Catalonia's civil unrest: online separatist group make waves across Spain

Following the Spanish Supreme Court’s verdict to imprison some nine independence leaders for up to 13 years, Catalonia has been brought to a standstill overnight by protests and riots across the region.

This week, the Spanish Supreme Court publicly announced their ruling on the lengthy trial against the Catalan independence leaders for their roles in and leading up to the ‘unconstitutional’ referendum that took place on 10th October 2017. The verdict: prison sentences of between nine and 13 years, issued to some nine politicians charged with "sedition" and "misuse of public funds". In an official address, the Spanish President Pedro Sánchez promised to "uphold the Supreme Court ruling", adding simply that "no one is above the law".

The verdict, which sent shockwaves through the country, was felt most in Barcelona, the beating heart of Catalonia; the Supreme Court’s decision here was met with equal levels of outrage and disgust. Taking to social media, Spaniards on both sides of the debate either celebrated the verdict or utterly deplored it. In fact, many among the growing far-right movement in Spain felt that the sentences were not long enough: the prosecution argued the case for issuing 78-year sentences.

Within hours of the announcement, thousands of Catalans were mobilised through online groups such as Tsunami Democràtic.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s verdict on Monday, TD has amassed over 170,000 followers. Through organising blockades, protests and riots across Catalonia, the grassroots movement vows to continue down the path of civil disobedience until its political leaders are freed, and ultimately until Catalonia be allowed the right to “self-determination”.

TD are continuing to unleash waves of civil unrest across the region, using online encrypted forums to coordinate motorway blockades, metro and railway service disruptions, and even going as far as to cause El Prat airport to close.

Today, the Spanish government were quick to condemn the actions of the online movement and have called upon the current President of the Generalitat, Quim Torra, to follow suit.

Riot police have come down on protesters with an iron fist: photos and videos circulating the internet have shown officers using excessive force against civilians, with recent reports suggest some 130 people have been injured in the recent rioting. The lengthy prison sentences have reignited existing tensions between Catalonia and the rest of Spain: this, coupled with incidents of police brutality from Spanish officers, threaten to breed further resentment between nationalists and separatists.

Former President of the Catalan Parliament Carles Puidgement (Junts per Si, Junts per Catalunya), who since October 2017 has been in self-exile has heavily criticised the legal and political process surrounding the sentencings:

“Earlier this year, the case of the Catalan political prisoners was brought to the United Nations [who] held that the pre-trial imprisonment of the nine politicians was a violation of international law and a clear breach of Spain’s legal obligations “ However, despite the UN’s ruling, Puidgemont added that the Spanish courts ignored and disparaged the UN’s decision. In his words, the sentences were “designed to crush the Catalan independence movement – to break the individuals who were before the court and to instil fear in the millions of people who support them”. What’s more, the Spanish Supreme Court allowed Vox, an extreme right-wing “neo-fascist” political party, to take an active part in the legal proceedings, questioning the defendants as part of the prosecution team. A sovereign Catalonia is the antithesis of Vox’s politics: the Catalan independence movement constitutes a real threat to the supremacy and indivisibility of the Spanish State as established in the Spanish constitution – and rightly so.

In recent years the independence movement in Catalonia has been dismissed and rejected, by all of Madrid’s major central powers, branded as “unlawful” or “unconstitutional”.

But for trying to incite real democratic change, Catalans have been met with aggression, with political leaders subjected to unfair trials and punished excessively (with their sentences equal to crimes such as kidnapping, terrorism or rape). Some of the 13-year sentences, given to politician and former Vice-President Oriol Junqueras for instance, were almost on par with the sentences handed down to members of “The Wolfpack” for the gang rape of a young woman in Pamplona in 2016.

Regardless of where you sit on the issue, for or against, the way that Spanish central powers have handled and continue to handle the situation leaves a lot to be desired. This is not to say that the separatist movement is without fault; but without consistent and reciprocated efforts from both sides to cooperate and to negotiate, there is certainly no end in sight for the protesting and civil unrest that currently grips Catalonia. In the words of Tsunami Democràtic: “this is only the beginning”.

Featured image: Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com