IT was one of the most momentous nights of Catalonia’s fight for self-determination as Spain’s Civil Guard raided government offices in Barcelona, triggering a spontaneous demonstration by thousands of pro-independence supporters.

Civic leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart stood atop a police car outside the Economy Ministry, trying to call off the protest, but what became one of the most manipulated and iconic images preceding the October 1 2017 referendum, was also the one used to send them to prison. Both are now free and yesterday – the fourth anniversary of what is known in Catalonia as 20-S – they said that day in 2017 was a “trap” by the Spanish state to deter the referendum.

Cuixart, president of the grassroots Omnium Cultural, told Catalonia Radio: ”It was a turning point. You didn’t need to have great knowledge about how searches are done to realise that what the Spanish state had [done] was a trap.

“[It was not] normal that there were Civil Guard cars with weapons, or that there was an attempt to enter the headquarters of a political party without a court order, or that 15 arrests and 40 searches were carried out in addresses of public servants ... I did not foresee that this would mean that we would end up in prison, but it was very clear that the Spanish state had changed its strategy to fight the referendum.”

Sanchez, former leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) said it was not normal that two Civil Guard cars, with loaded weapons inside, were left with their doors open outside the ministry when crowds were protesting.

Never would he “have imagined that for a demonstration that ended without any notable incident I would be imprisoned and sentenced to nine years in prison”.

He added: “I wasn’t aware of it and I saw it later in a report, that they had set a trap for us.” Cuixart said that in a democratic country, the police action would have been the subject of an investigation.

Both men say they did “what was right,” although Sanchez said he would not get back on the car – not for fear of being jailed again, but “because many media outlets used the image to criminalise the [independence] movement”.

Cuixart has written on social media: “We’ll do it again.”

“Independence is stronger than ever,” he said, as evidenced by the massive crowds for the National Day, La Diada, on September 11, and the last Catalan elections, where pro-independence parties gained 52% of the votes.