Catalonia: tensions remain high as Madrid asserts control

Peaceful Assembly

As the Spanish government takes control of Catalonia - dissolving its parliament, announcing new elections and keeping separatist leaders behind bars - tensions in the region remain high with mass protests being held by both unionists and separatists over the past few weeks. On 29th October, hundreds of thousands marched through Barcelona in support of Catalonia remaining part of Spain. Two weeks later on 11th November, hundreds of thousands of independence supporters lined one of Barcelona’s main avenues to demand the release of separatist politicians from prison. In a show of solidarity, on 7th December 45,000 separatists marched through Brussels' European quarter.

In reaction to the escalating divisions, the Barcelona City Council approved a measure in November allowing authorities to deny permits for “far-right protests”. According to some unionists, this measure is meant to criminalise those who hold differing opinions. Regional elections are being held on 21st December, with most observers concluding that the new polls will not produce the "stability" sought by the central government. Writing for Open Democracy, commentator Patrice de Beer notes that, whatever the outcome, the Spanish government must not repeat its hardline approach towards pro-independence activists:

"It is time for the Spanish establishment to realise that their country, like any other democracy, can’t be maintained harmoniously only with a threat of the use of force and prison sentences".

Results of the election were not available at the time of writing. Check back here soon for the latest update on civic space in Catalonia, and Spain. 

Expression

Rights International Spain reported that on 4th December the Spanish National Court sentenced 12 rappers of the "La Insurgencia" collective to two years in prison for the crime of glorifying terrorism. The court concluded that the lyrics of La Insurgencia’s songs uploaded to YouTube glorify GRAPO, a terrorist organisation no longer in existence, and its members. The Court believes that such communications are not protected under the right to freedom of speech. Responding to the verdict, one member of the collective Ivan Leszno said:

“It does nothing but increase the list of prisoners who have been put behind bars for their ideas in Spain. The repression that has been raging and is taking place these days with the Catalans who demand a right as basic as voting, is the same repression that has been suffered by numerous groups, peoples, organizations, artists and activists since the Franco regime”.

The decision has been appealed at the Supreme Court.