HRW: ‘Ex­ces­sive force’ used vs Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence poll

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - WORLD - —AFP, REUTERS

MADRID— Span­ish po­lice used “ex­ces­sive force” to try to stop an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum held in Cat­alo­nia on Oct. 1 that had been banned by Madrid, Hu­man Rights Watch ( HRW) said on Thurs­day.

The rights watch­dog said it doc­u­mented “ex­ces­sive use of force against peace­ful demon­stra­tors” by Spain’s na­tional po­lice and Guardia Civil forces in the city of Girona and two hill­side vil­lages, Aigua­viva and Fonol­losa.

It said po­lice charged pro­test­ers with­out warn­ing and used ba­tons and shields to hit them on their heads, arms, legs and tor­sos in Girona, while in Aigua­viva and Fonol­losa po­lice used ba­tons and threw peo­ple to the ground.

“The po­lice may well have had the law on their side to en­force a court or­der but it didn’t give them the right to use vi­o­lence against peace­ful pro­test­ers,” said Karthik Raj, Western Europe re­searcher at HRW.

Vi­o­lent im­ages

Im­ages of al­leged po­lice vi­o­lence were beamed around the world af­ter the Oct. 1 ref­er­en­dum, which Cata­lan’s sep­a­ratist au­thor­i­ties claimed saw 90 per­cent of those who voted sup­port a split from Spain.

At least 92 peo­ple were in­jured and hun­dreds re­quired med­i­cal as­sis­tance.

It took the cen­tral gov­ern­ment five days to apol­o­gize to those hurt, with two of­fi­cials say­ing they “re­gret­ted” the vi­o­lence.

HRW said that as of last week, 23 dif­fer­ent courts in Cat­alo­nia were ex­am­in­ing al­le­ga­tions of po­lice mis­con­duct, with one in­ves­ti­gat­ing com­plaints made by 36 in­di­vid­u­als re­lat­ing to 17 sites in Barcelona.

Other rights groups con­tacted by AFP crit­i­cized the Span­ish po­lice’s con­duct dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum.

“We saw ex­ces­sive use of ba­tons in­clud­ing peo­ple hit in the face, which is for­bid­den by the United Na­tions,” said Ig­na­cio Jovtis, an ob­server for Amnesty In­ter­na­tional in Spain.

He also said po­lice had fired rub­ber bul­lets that were banned by in­ter­na­tional rights con­ven­tions.

Jose Cobo, spokesper­son for the Span­ish As­so­ci­a­tion of Civil Guards, how­ever, said that po­lice “did not use ex­ces­sive force, and re­sponded grad­u­ally and pro­por­tion­ately to the il­le­gal vote.”


He said the num­ber of re­ported in­juries had been “to­tally ex­ag­ger­ated” in­sist­ing that only two peo­ple re­quired hospi­tal treat­ment on Oct. 1—one hit by a rub­ber bullet and another who suf­fered a heart at­tack.

Spa­niards lined the streets of Madrid and Barcelona on Thurs­day and na­tional flags hung from bal­conies across the cap­i­tal as union­ists used a pub­lic hol­i­day to demon­strate unity in the face of moves by Cat­alo­nia to de­clare in­de­pen­dence.

The wealthy re­gion’s in­ten- tion to break away has plunged Spain into its worst po­lit­i­cal cri­sis since an at­tempted mil­i­tary coup in 1981, with Madrid threat­en­ing to sack the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment if it went ahead.

Madrid’s cus­tom­ary mil­i­tary pa­rade mark­ing the an­niver­sary of ex­plorer Christo­pher Colum­bus’s ar­rival in the Amer­i­cas on be­half of the Span­ish crown took place in a city al­ready fes­tooned with flags hung by Spa­niards in a dis­play of unity.

Ten­sion re­mained high be­tween the cen­tral gov­ern­ment and Cat­alo­nia af­ter the re­gion’s leader signed a sym­bolic dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence on Tues­day, cit­ing the re­sults of an Oct. 1 ref­er­en­dum which had been de­clared il­le­gal by Madrid.


Spa­niards join a march for unity un­der a Cata­lan flag dur­ing their coun­try’s Na­tional Day in Barcelona. Cat­alo­nia’s Oct. 1 ref­er­en­dum led to a vote to de­clare in­de­pen­dence from Spain, but the Span­ish gov­ern­ment de­clared the polling il­le­gal.

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