“It will make everything worse,” said retired teacher Dolores, 66, of the “bad news” that a judge in Madrid had ordered 8 deposed Catalan ministers to be held in jail.
“I have never voted separatist and I don’t feel represented by either the pro or anti independence camp,” she said as she sat on a bench surrounded by shopping bags in Plaza Catalunya in central Barcelona, the Catalan capital, with her friend Nuria.
“They did not do anything very serious. They were never violent because all the demonstrations they organised were peaceful,” she said of the jailed officials.
The judge ordered Catalonia’s former vice president Oriol Junqueras and seven other deposed regional ministers to be held in jail pending an investigation into their role in the region’s independence drive.
Dolores said the ruling was especially upsetting given that “many who have stolen in this country are still free, starting with those of the PP,” a reference to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ruling Popular Party which has been tainted by a string of graft scandals.
Prosecutors have asked for European arrest warrants to be issued against five other deposed regional ministers, including Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont, who is in Belgium, after they failed to turn up at a court hearing in Madrid.
“It makes you angry even when you do not vote for independence because every time a disproportionate measure is taken, it only fuels independence.
“Rajoy does not take this into account or it suits him to win more votes in other regions, as the defender of the unity of Spain,” said Dolores.
The judge’s ruling also upset her friend Nuria, 67, a former official with the labour ministry who also opposes independence.“It hurts me, because I believe the blame is shared between Madrid and Barcelona. Politics is dialogue and there was none,” she said.
Antonio Navarro, a 51-year-old businessman who was walking briskly through the square, was one of the few passing by to approve of the court’s ruling.
“This is very good and it was to be expected,” he said.
“They broke the law, disobeyed the courts, used public funds for their illegal project, carried out a pantomime they called a referendum and declared an independence that the constitution does not allow,” a reference to a banned referendum held by the Catalan government on October 1.
“Puigdemont should have supported his ministers but instead he sought protection in Belgium. It’s a lack of respect and responsibility towards his followers.”Catalonia’s own parliament declared independence last Friday but that same day, Rajoy dismissed the regional government, imposing direct rule on Catalonia and called regional elections for December 21.
Margarita, a 32-year-old shoe saleswoman who backs centrist party Ciudadanos which was formed in Catalonia to oppose independence said “nobody deserves to go to prison for their ideas.”
“I consider them to be political prisoners,” she added. Xavi Magrazo, 23, who wore a T-shirt with the image of Bob Marley, changed his evening plans when he learned a protest would be held outside of the Catalan regional parliament. “We’ll go, no?” he said to his girlfriend.
The office manager said as he left an exhibition near the square;“Independence was proclaimed but it was words more than a reality. They did it to gain strength and international projection.”
“With Puigdemont in Belgium now, the European Union will have to get involved. Everything will get worse until Europe gets involved,” he added.