As many as 120,000 people from all over Spain flooded the main avenues of Madrid Saturday, according to the 50 event organizers that included the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) as well as pro-independence supports and unions from Madrid and Andalusian. The Spanish government put the number of participants at 18,000, says Reuters.
Waving Catalan flags and large banners with the slogan: "self-determination is not a crime, democracy is the right to decide," protesters against the trial of 12 Catalan pro-independence leaders that began in February listened to Catalan Generalitat President Quim Torra tell Spain: “Listen to the cries of freedom (and) independence."
The president of the autonomous region added: "We will not stop, they will not stop us," the referring to Catalonia’s continued struggle for independence from Spain that has been going on for decades.
Demonstrators told Reuters the protest was not just about the pro-independence movement, but democracy in general. "We just want freedom, and I can be a pro-independence supporter or not, but Spanish justice is not being fair and that's what we are claiming today. To vote is not a crime," said one protester.
Pro-independence efforts culminated a year and a half ago when, in a controversial Oct. 1, 2017 referendum, Catalonians voted to break from Spain. The regional parliament also voted 70-10-2 to secede prompting the Spanish government under then Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to take control over Catalonia's government institutions in order to "restore order."
A message was read aloud from the president of the pro-independence organization Omnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart who said Madrid will “never confront us,” and that "no social movement can be prosecuted for exercising its fundamental rights." The organization leader, who remains in pre-trial detention for his participation in the Oct. 1 vote, called the Catalan referendum, "Europe's biggest act of civil disobedience."
The Omnium president faces up to 17 years in prison for rebellion. In his letter he expressed gratitude to the "people” for their “solidarity protest.” Cuixart told demonstrators they must be "united against the threat of fascism," referring to the new far-right Vox party that has quickly gained nationalist support and is calling for Spain to take a tougher stance against the pro-independence movement.