Over the last few weeks, the Catalan independence movement has provoked escalating and severe reactions from Spanish authorities. Reuters reports that The Constitutional Court has suspended the referendum after a legal challenge by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and that police have since searched newspaper offices and printers for signs of any preparation for the referendum, even going so far as to scour the area for ballot boxes in an attempt to quell the upcoming vote.

Assange and Wikileaks have both commented numerous times over the last few days on massive public support for the Catalan independence movement, as well as blatant attempts by the Spanish government to suppress a successful vote in favor of independence. The effects of the independence movement on Spain’s membership in the EU remains to be seen. At the time of publication, EU member states appear remarkably quiet on the matter. That a member of the European Union could brazenly restrict the operation of free press and treat its citizens in such an authoritarian manner without consequence is deeply troubling.

The BBC reported that Spain’s public prosecutor had summoned more than 700 Catalan mayors to appear for questioning over their support for a banned independence referendum. Despite these increasing attempts to suppress the vote, one million protestors recently took to the streets of Barcelona in support of Catalan independence.

Protestors in favor of Catalonian Independence. Image Credit: AJ +

Meanwhile, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has repeatedly expressed his stance on the Catalonian independence via Twitter, questioning the Spanish government for its suppression of the media and its attempts to prevent the referendum taking place.

The Catalan independence movement is not only significant domestically for Spain, but also for implications it may have on the European Union. It was compared by a University of Geneva study to the Scottish independence referendum.

Wikileaks Tweeted that the Spanish state had claimed it would overpower Catalonia’s government by seizing control of its finances in attempt to stop vote. Further, Wikileaks remarked that the Spanish Ministry of the Interior had bragged about military police having seized “how to vote” posters. The latest escalations in Spain’s suppression of the independence movement come as the University of Geneva published a study on “Catalonia’s legitimate right to decide.” The summary of the document states in part that:

“These efforts build upon Catalonia’s previous attempts to consolidate representative governance for Catalan citizens within and conjointly with the Spanish democratic state. Four internationally recognized experts were invited by the Government of Catalonia to examine the controversy generated by the call for a self-determination referendum. This has been convened in the face of the opposition of the Spanish authorities which contest its legality, unlike the recent examples of the trend towards the recognition of self-determination, of which the most salient is that of Scotland’s referendum on independence…”

The study concludes: “From an international law perspective, it appears clearly that there is no international legal prohibition barring a sub-state entity from deciding its political destiny by assessing the will of its people. Both case law and state practice support this conclusion.”

Assange also Tweeted that: “El Pais: Armed police seized 100,000 posters in attempt to suppress independence vote on Oct 1.” The article linked by Assange reports that “pairs of plain clothes agents have come to the media offices to transfer the order of the judge of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC), Mercedes Armas, to the effect that the referendum has been declared illegal and, therefore, they can not include propaganda if they do not want to incur criminal liability.” The suppression of free press illustrated here should be of serious concern to media outside of Spain as well as to Spanish citizens.

Amnesty International has also commented on the issue, expressing deep concern regarding Spain’s restriction of free speech: “Amnesty International considers that this suspension constitutes a disproportionate restriction of the right to freedom of expression contained in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Spain.” Amnesty International  corroborated the University of Geneva study which concluded that the suspension of the referendum was not in line with International law: “… The suspension decreed by Judge Yusty Bastarreche has not taken into account whether or not the requirements established by international law to impose restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.”

Spanish media wrote: “The Civil Guard was appointed this afternoon to the editorial staff of El Nacional to notify the management and the publishing company of the order of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) to refrain from publishing announcements related to the referendum of on October 1.” The article concludes with the statement that the Civil Guard had been ordered to provide the presiding Judge a list of media that “issued or published the announcement of the institutional campaign of the Generalitat on the referendum.” It is shocking to this author that such authoritarian efforts in an EU member would go largely without protest from other EU states or Western press.

Further Spanish media reports related: “… police officers burst into the headquarters of El Punt Today, Racó Català, El Nacional, Digital Nation and El Mundo to deliver the notification of the TSJC. In parallel, Benedict has been appointed to two other printing companies, in Badalona and Poblenou. At the close of this information, this body announced that 100,000 posters had been requisitioned in Hospitalet de Llobregat.”

Reports continue that “Police actions continue in Catalonia against the referendum on October 1 …  Several photographs confirm the deployment of riot police agents from the Spanish police in Reus.”
General Francisco Franco. Photo: AFP
The fevered reports from Spanish media on the escalating crackdown surrounding the Catalonian independence movement are of serious concern not only to Spanish citizens, but to all who support the concept of free press and democratic representation.
The right of the public to govern itself seems to be a sentiment that is often given lip service in many nations, but is rarely borne out and is more often actively suppressed. That a member state of the European Union would be able to treat its citizens in such a manner without consequence is deeply troubling.
The situation in Spain appears to be so severe in the lead-up to the vote that one cannot help but draw parallels between current events and historical authoritarian crack-downs. Numerous media outlets have commented on the persistent influence fascist dictator General Francisco Franco has had in Spanish politics. The BBC commented on Franco’s ongoing legacy in the country:

“The shadow of his regime still bedevils politics. Franco’s vengeful triumphalism had been fostered in the military academies, where officer cadets were trained to regard democracy as signifying disorder and regional separatism… “

Although Franco’s legacy may shed some light on the severity of Spain’s response to the Catalonian Independence movement, it clearly has no bearing on the public’s massive efforts efforts towards independence. Whether the Spanish authorities will succeed in preventing the referendum remains to be seen, but regardless of the outcome, the process by which the Spanish government has gone about attempting to prevent the vote should be of serious concern both to EU member states and international community.

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