Video: Riot Police Charge at Protesters as Violent Clashes Break Out Over Sentencing of Catalan Separatist Leaders

Protests erupted across Catalonia on Monday after the Supreme Court of Spain sentenced nine Catalan leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition, misuse of public funds and disobedience. The leaders were sentenced for organizing a referendum that resulted in a unilateral declaration of independence for the region in 2017—one which Madrid declared illegal.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, just minutes after the sentence was issued—blocking main roads in protest at what many in Catalonia perceive to be politically motivated charges.

Later in the day, thousands of demonstrators marched all the way to Barcelona's El Prat airport—located around nine miles from the city center—causing the cancellation of several flights and the disruption of train and metro services, The Local reported.

We filmed police hitting separatists for @BBCNews at Barcelona airport tonight. Violent scenes. Catalonia independence protests expected to intensify this week

— Andy Smythe (@acsmythe) October 15, 2019

The march to the airport was organized by the Tsunami Democràtic group, which sent a message to its 150,000 members urging them to bring the airport to a standstill.

"The time has come to make our voice felt around the world. The goal: stop the activity of Barcelona's airport," the message said.

Several people were injured after police charged at protesters—who were trying to block access to the airport's main terminal—with batons while firing teargas. Several videos have since emerged on social media showing both the national police (National Police and Guardia Civil) and the regional Catalan police (Mossos d'Esquadra) beating protesters.

Barcelona protests
Protesters on Via Laietana in Barcelona on Monday, October 14, 2019. Aristos Georgiou

Meanwhile, some journalists who were covering the airport protests said they were attacked by security personnel. One man reportedly lost an eye during the clashes: medical staff say the injuries were consistent with the impacts caused by a rubber bullet, which have been used by the national police in Catalonia, The Local reported.

Passengers, airline staff and airport personnel were all caught up in the protests, with some forced to walk along the highway to leave.

Back in the center of Barcelona, thousands of protesters flooded one of the city's main roadways, the Via Laietana. Riot police charged at a large crowd there on Monday evening—some of whom were throwing objects, like drink cans. Officers also fired riot guns, which have no projectile but make a sound.

The incident began after one protester in the crowd—which had surrounded the headquarters of the national police—began waving a Catalan independence flag close to the face of one of the officers in riot gear.

In a video of the incident, protesters can be heard chanting, "The streets will always be ours" and "Occupation forces out" in Catalan.

The announcement of the sentences on Monday brought to an end a four-month trial, involving more than 400 witnesses, looking into the October, 2017 referendum held in the autonomous community of Catalonia and the events leading up to it.

The referendum—which was called by the Generalitat de Catalunya (the regional government)—was declared illegal on September 7, 2017 by Madrid, who declared that it was in breach of the Spanish Constitution.

Despite this, the vote went ahead, with more than 2.04 million people (92.01 percent) voting for independence and around 177,000 (7.99 percent) voting against, although turnout among registered voters was only 43.03 percent.

Aside from the nine Catalan independence leaders who were given prison sentences, the Spanish supreme court also found three others guilty of disobedience and banned them from holding office, although they will not serve jail time. Shortly after the sentences were announced, an international arrest warrant was issued for former Catalan president Carles Puidgemont who is in exile in Belgium to avoid arrest by the Spanish authorities, The Guardian reported.

riot police, Catalonia
Riot police stand outside National Police headquarters during protests on Via Laietana, Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, October 14, 2019. Aristos Georgiou

On Monday, Oriol Junqueras—the former vice president of Catalonia who has been sentenced to 13 years in prison—tweeted: "We'll return stronger and with even more belief than ever. Thanks to everyone, keep fighting because we will keep fighting forever."

Another of those sentenced by the supreme court, Jordi Sànchez—a regional Catalan politician and influential activist—said in a Tweet: "Let's express ourselves without fear and move forward, non-violently, towards freedom."

The current president of the Catalan government, Quim Torra, said the sentencing of the nine leaders would not derail the region's bid for independence, noting: "Repression will never triumph over dialogue, democracy and self-determination."

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that the Government of Spain "respects and abides by the decision of the Spanish Supreme Court," one that marks the end of a trial, which "met all the requirements of due process, transparency and separation of powers."

"Nobody is above the law," he wrote on Twitter. "In a democracy, nobody is subject to trial for his or her ideas or politics but, rather, for criminal conduct as provided by the law. In Spain, there are no political prisoners but rather some politicians in prison for violating our democratic laws."

The Government of Spain respects and abides by the decision of the Spanish Supreme Court, which puts an end to a judicial procedure meeting all requirements of due process, transparency and separation of powers.

— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) October 14, 2019

"The Government of Spain will work in the coming days to guarantee the public order and protect our democratic laws: responding proportionally to any violations of the law and building on the unity of all political parties engaged in the defense of our Constitution."

He added that the government would work to "repair the fractures created by the separatist movement," urging the Generalitat de Catalunya to govern "for all Catalans" and recognize those who oppose independence.

"We need to open a new chapter based on peaceful coexistence in Catalonia through dialogue within the boundaries of the laws and the Spanish Constitution," he said. "A modern, plural and tolerant Catalonia taking its rightful place in Spain and contributing together to a stronger Europe."

More protests are set to take place in the coming days across Catalonia, with a general strike planned for October 18, The Local reported. Tuesday saw another wave of disruption across the region, with demonstrators blocking roads in Barcelona again, as well as other areas.

Barcelona protests
Protesters on Via Laietana in Barcelona on Monday, October 14, 2019. Aristos Georgiou