Written by Rachel Tay

What happened?

Peaceful marches in Spain’s Catalonia region have taken a violent turn. Masked protestors tackled riot officers near the national police headquarters in Barcelona, threw stones and cans and set rubbish cans on fire in the streets. Riot police retaliated with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Meanwhile, in the north near the French border, Catalan police closed the motorway at La Jonquera when about 200 protesters occupied the road. Over 20 main roads across Catalonia have been blocked by protesters.The Barcelona-Real Madrid football game due to be played in the Catalan capital next weekend has also been delayed.

The protests stemmed from the harsh decision of the Supreme Court on Monday to jail nine of the 12 Catalan separatist leaders for 9 to 13 years. The separatists were convicted for the crimes of sedition and the misuse of public funds because of their role in the outlawed 2017 referendum and declaration of independence, which failed to achieve the goal of independence for Catalonia region from Spain.

Why is it significant?

Stanford sociologist Robb Willer highlighted the dangers of violent activism which turns people off, including potential supporters of the movement. The use of violence heightens opposition against those who use it, in turn galvanising support for the other group. The morphing of peaceful demonstrations into violent protests in Catalonia could see the intentions of the movement being dismissed because of the violence that shrouds it. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, in an appeal to the current President of Catalonia Quim Torra, said that the paralysed region could “put at risk the peace of their cities, the properties of their neighbours and the safety of citizens.”

However, this does not mean that civil protests are pointless and should be condemned and avoided at all costs. On the contrary, the public display of solidarity by Catalonians has brought the political issue of the Supreme Court ruling to the forefront by making it visible, which may potentially challenge the status quo and bring about meaningful social change.

Disclaimer: This article was last edited on 27/10/2019. The content in the section “Why is it significant?” has been edited for balance.

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