The streets of Barcelona flooded with protestors on April 15 who rallied against the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders facing trial on “rebellion” charges.

Chanting “Freedom for the political prisoners”, they marched along Parallel Avenue, a main thoroughfare, many waving the red-and-yellow Catalan flag.

As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the protest comes six months after the first incarcerations of top Catalan separatist leaders for misuse of public funds, sedition and rebellion (which carries a prison sentence of 30 years and implies that a “violent uprising” took place) over their separatist push.

“Since they could not decapitate separatism, they are trying to do it through the courts,” Roser Urgelles, a 59-year-old teacher, told AFP at the protest.

“They need to demonstrate that there was violence to execute the sentences that they want, so they invent it,” she said, adding: “But we will continue to protest peacefully.”

Like thousands of others at the march, she wore a yellow ribbon to show solidarity with the jailed leaders, whom Catalan separatists consider to be “political prisoners”.

Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catala, has called the use of yellow ribbons “insulting”, arguing that Spain has no political prisoners but “politicians in prison”.

According to the Guardia Urbana, a Catalan municipal police force, some 315,000 people took part in the demonstration organised by two grassroots independence groups, the ANC and Omnium. The presidents of both groups are among the nine separatist leaders in prison awaiting trial over their role in last year’s failed breakaway bid by Catalonia.

In a separate report, Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, noted that direct rule by Spain’s central government in Madrid has been imposed on Catalonia since its unilateral declaration of independence in October.

Jordi Sanchez, one of the pro-independence activists imprisoned (facing rebellion charges which could lead to jail terms of 30 years), was among those elected in the December elections in Catalonia which saw a renewed, if slight, majority for the separatists.

Although Sanchez was proposed as candidate to lead the new Catalan regional government, a judge has refused to allow him out of jail to be sworn in, reported DW.

If a new leader in Catalonia is not elected by May 22, new regional elections will be held.