Violent protests erupt in Spain as Catalan leaders given lengthy prison sentences

Catalonia has been pushing to secede from Spain for decades.

Catalunya took to the streets of Barcelona on Monday after nine separatist leaders were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison by the Supreme Court of Madrid. The highest court's stiff decision came after a lengthy trial related to the region's October 2017 "unconstitutional independence referendum" -- a vote that led Catalonia to declare its independence from Spain.

The separatist leaders were found guilty of sedition, disobedience or misuse of public funds. The prosecution had asked for a charge brutal rebellion, which would have carried a sentence up to 25 years in prison, but the seven judges ruled against it.

The four-month trial involved a staggering 422 witnesses and returned Spain to the unusual weeks of October 2017, when Catalunya almost touched a longtime dream of independence. The vote led Spain into its deepest political crisis since the dark years of the Francisco Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.

Among the separatist leaders convicted were former Foreign Minister Raul Romeva, Labor Minister Dolors Bassa and Carme Forcadell, who was speaker of the Catalan Parliament at the time. Forcadell, 64, will serve 11 1/2 years in prison.

Separatist sympathizers called for massive protests following Monday's ruling, attempting to block traffic on major highways and crowded Barcelona's main airport. At El Pratt,110 flights were canceled, according to the Mosos Police. According to authorities, there were 78 people hurt in the massive protests, which brought out riot police and ended with tear gas fired into the crowds.

"I am shocked and mad," said Olivier Pujol, one of the protesters who hit the streets of Barcelona after hearing the judges' decision.

Not far from the famous Ramblas in the capital of Spain's richest region, Pujol told ABC News that despite not being a separatist militant he just wants to have the right to vote.

"These prisoners did not do anything else than asking Spain to respect our right for democracy," he said. "The right to choose."

More than 2 million Catalans voted in October 2017 for Catalunya to become an independent state in the form of a republic, according to the Catalan government. The referendum was unauthorized and took place despite Madrid's opposition, and then lack of recognition.

Adria Alsina Leal, former national secretary of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), confided to ABC News while marching in Monday's protests that the Spanish state decision was an additional humiliation.

"This is heartbreaking moment for pro- and non-separatist supporters who feel attacked by a state which is supposed to protect us and our ideas, and not to destroy our political landscape," Leal said.

The Spanish Justice Ministry defines sedition as allowing public disorder in order to subvert the law.

Indeed, after a few weeks of resistance, Carles Puidgemont,former President of Catalunya region who is currently in exile in Belgium, did read out loud the independence declaration inside the Catalan Parliament after 70 votesin favor, 10 against and 2 blank which made Madrid furious.

Mariano Rajoy, conservative prime minister of Spain at the time of the vote in 2017, suspended the regional power of Catalunya and dissolved the assembly.

After the court made the decision, former Vice President Oriol Junqueras said in a tweet that Catalan independence was closer than ever and said his party will come back stronger, more convinced and firm than ever.