HRW: ‘Excessive force’ used vs Catalan independence poll
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.
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.