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Handel's Messiah, performed outside a Catalan prison by more than 450 professional musicians and singers, for the benefit of the seven pro-independence political prisoners held within its walls: that was the scene at the central Catalonia penitentiary of Lledoners this Saturday, where thousands of people turned out to hear the mass performance of Georg Friedrich Handel's famous oratorio, in yet another multitudinous act of support for Catalonia's jailed independence leaders.

The event began at 12 noon on the esplanade outside the jail, taking advantage of the fact that prisoners were outside their cells at that time and could listen for at least the first half hour. The concert lasted about an hour and almost all the musical movements that make up the work were performed.

The Associació El Messies Participatiu, which organised the concert, plays the work every year in Barcelona. A few weeks ago, some of its members decided to mount a performance at Lledoners as well, to bring it closer to political prisoners in an event which they say is "unprecedented in Europe." "A professional production like this outside a prison is something that has never been done".

The musicians played facing towards the prison so that political prisoners could hear it as best as possible and it began with the famous Alleluia.

Long tailbacks on access highways

The high public turnout caused heavy congestion on the road access to the jail, which continued even after the start of the performance. Nevertheless, more than 3,000 cars reached the esplanade outside the prison, according to local police, after patiently waiting in almost four kilometres of traffic queues.

Thanks from the prisoners

From inside the prison, Jordi Sànchez asserted that he and the rest of the prisoners heard the Messiah performance. "Thanks for making music into one more tool to gain our freedom and to avoid losing our smiles and our hope," he said.

A total of nine Catalan political prisoners have been held in "pre-trial" prison, for periods of between nine and 14 months so far, accused of rebellion and other charges related to the 2017 Catalan independence referendum. Their trial is expected to begin in late January 2019 in Spain's Supreme Court.