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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has said a Spanish court ruling which saw nine Catalan politicians and civil leaders sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison is a “direct affront to human rights.”

All nine defendants had been held without bail for the last two years over their role in Catalonia’s failed bid for independence from Spain.

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On Monday, they were all acquitted of rebellion, the gravest charge, but were found guilty of sedition. Three other defendants were found culpable of disobedience but were not handed jail terms.

“The court ruling is a direct affront to human rights, including the right to assembly and to demonstrate the freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial,” Guardiola said in a video for Tsunami Democratic. “This is unacceptable in 21st century Europe.

“Spain is experiencing a drift towards authoritarianism in which an anti-terrorism law is used to prosecute dissidents.

“Neither [Spanish prime minister] Pedro Sanchez’s government, nor any other Spanish government, has been brave enough to deal with this conflict with dialogue and respect. Instead, they have chosen repression as the only response.

“We demand that the Spanish government find a political and democratic solution. We demand that Spain sit down and talk. We repeat, there is only one path: sitting down and talking. Sitting down and talking.”

The arrests stemmed from a unilateral independence referendum held in Catalonia in October of 2017. The referendum resulted in an overwhelming win for the separatists and led to a short-lived independence declaration.

Barcelona released a statement on Monday which said that “prison is not the solution,” while fellow Catalan clubs Espanyol and Girona also called for dialogue between all parties involved in the conflict between the autonomous region in Spain.

Protests took place all over Catalonia in the wake of the court ruling, with the largest congregation of people forming at Barcelona’s El Prat airport and causing delays to flights and traffic congestion.

Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic was forced to leave the airport on foot due to the demonstrations. He later confirmed on social media that he had arrived home safely and returned to training with his club on Tuesday following international duty.

Guardiola has been a prominent speaker in favour of Catalonia’s right to self-determination. He has previously worn — and continues to wear, when possible — a yellow ribbon in support of the jailed separatists. He has been banned from wearing it during Premier League games, though, by the FA, who prohibit the wearing of political messages.

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