EU on the Brink: Hundreds of Thousands March in Catalonia to Demand the Release of ‘Political Prisoners’

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Around three-quarters of a million Catalans have marched to demand the release of local politicians arrested for their role in the drive for independence.

Spain’s central government has dissolved the Catalan parliament, dismissed the Catalan government, and imposed direct rule following the region’s unilateral declaration of independence on October 27th.

This followed a self-determination referendum which the Spanish authorities deemed illegal and attempted to shut down violently, with the blessing of the European Union’s ruling bodies.

Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s ex-president — or president-in-exile, depending on your point of view — had given some indication that he would ignore Madrid’s attempts to terminate his administration and remain in post, but fled to Brussels, Belgium when the authorities closed in.

Several of those who remained behind have been arrested to face charges of rebellion and sedition, with eight former Catalan government ministers and the leaders of the Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural jailed while investigations continue.

Protestors say the detainees are “political prisoners”, and flooded the Avenue Marina to hear speeches from their family members and demand their release.

Puigdemont himself has been subject to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW), a controversial extradition mechanism which requires EU member-states to hand people over to the countries issuing them with little due process.

Spain’s use of the EAW in this case has been controversial, given it was sold to the public as a means of facilitating the extradition of terror suspects and serious criminals, not political opponents.

“To be treated like a criminal, like a drug trafficker, like a paedophile, like a serial killer, I think this is abuse,” Puigdemont commented from Brussels.

“This isn’t politics, this is using the courts to do politics. The Spanish state has damaged democracy,” he added.

Catalonia’s independence movement is not particularly “nationalist”, and has — or had — embraced the European Union and multiculturalism, for the most part.

However, frequent denunciations of Catalan aspirations by EU leaders, along with the failure of EU institutions to oppose Spanish police brutality and direct rule, appear to have encouraged something of a change of heart, with the deposed government’s foreign affairs spokesman questioning whether the bloc’s credibility can survive the current crisis.

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