Disobedient Media previously reported on the suppression of the Catalan independence movement in Spain. Since our first coverage of the issue, repressive tactics in Spain have continued to escalate. Disobedient Media’s report on the issue was also disingenuously smeared by Spanish media outlet El País. The press outlet also heavily criticized Edward Snowden and Julian Assange for having expressed concern on the matter.

That El País would perceive an independent news source like Disobedient Media as damaging enough to warrant such a response illustrates the deep insecurity the Catalan independence movement has stirred in Spain. El País devoted a large, inaccurate chart to our coverage of the events:

El País responded to Disobedient Media’s coverage of the Catalan independence movement

Backlash against the coverage of events in Spain comes amid reports that Spanish riot police have taken control of Catalan, despite initial resistance from Catalan police. The BBC stated: “Spanish authorities have moved to place all policing in Catalonia under central control to stop the disputed independence referendum on 1 October.” Demonstrations in favor of Catalan independence have proven so large that they prove difficult to fully capture in photographs, with Reuters reporting that approximately one million Catalans had taken to the streets in support of the upcoming referendum.

The Independent wrote that the Spanish government had called the upcoming referendum illegal and was taking steps to prevent the vote: “On Wednesday arrested 14 senior officials, seized ballot papers and raided the homes of the Catalan separatists suspected of coordinating the vote, due to take place on 1 October.” Despite these measures, supporters of Catalan independence were reported by The Guardian to have responded by distributing over one million ballots in the lead up to the referendum.

A group of people throw ballots for the referendum in Sant Jaume Square in Barcelona. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

Remarkably, the EU has continued its general reticence in the face of the escalating crackdown in Spain. The Independent wrote that the European Union is unlikely to intervene in Spain over Catalan independence, saying it must “respect the constitution of the country. ” The Washington Post related that Angela Merkel’s representatives said: “Berlin has great interest in the maintenance of stability in Spain.” The EU’s quiet backing of Spain may stem from a number of issues, including the stability of the European Union as well as Catalan’s economic status. This stance has raised serious concern among those who value self-governance.

French Press discussed the EU’s reluctance to act in Catalan. Dan Dungaciu, the head of the Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations of the Romanian Academy, told the AFP: “Recognizing Catalonia would create a terrible precedent for the EU, one which Brussels would find very hard to manage and which every separatist movement would try to use in future.”

Catalonia is also regarded as a wealthy region, whose loss would greatly impact Spain. The 2008 financial crisis hit Spain particularly hard, making the Catalan region increasingly valuable. The Telegraph explained the economic situation, writing that secession would cost Spain almost 20 per cent of its economic output, and “trigger a row about how to carve up the sovereign’s 836 billion euros of debt.”

Image Via El Pais

Even El País, who disingenuously reported on Disobedient Media’s coverage of the Catalan independence movement, admitted that Catalan had an economic advantage over Madrid before and after the 2008 financial crisis. Spain is reported to have tightened control over Catalonia’s finances in the lead up to the referendum, adding to the economic significance of the vote.

El País also inaccurately criticized this author’s citation of an Amnesty International report. The human rights organization had stated outright that: “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.”

El País referred to this author’s allusion to former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as disingenuous. However, it appears to be a directly comparable historical moment, as Franco did specifically suppress Catalan independence. The Telegraph writes that General Francisco Franco set out to “destroy Catalan separatism,” eventually taking control of the region by military force.

General Francisco Franco.
Image: Pictorial Press

The history of the Spanish aggression towards Catalan, including specifically the actions by Francisco Franco, are relevant to current events.  Bloomberg observed that: “Decades of political and legal fights to win recognition for their distinct traditions and language have left many Catalans infuriated.” The Telegraph added that the issue has simmered in Spain for “hundreds of years.”

The El País article specifically found fault with Disobedient Media’s inclusion of an image of Franco mounted on horseback. To address this, we have duly included an image of Franco making a fascist salute. The Guardian reports that the President of Catalan, Carles Puigdemont, expressed fears that Spain was returning to the repressive practices of the Franco era.

This sentiment was echoed by human rights activist and historian Craig Murray, who pointed out the “very real” influence Franco’s regime has had on the current Spanish Government. He stated that European and British press are reluctant to address the issue. Murray also wrote:

“The current government of Spain are the direct political heirs of Franco… many of their ministers have personal and family connections to his rule. Rajoy, Spain’s current Prime Minister, started his political career in 1981 by joining the People’s Alliance, a party founded in 1979 and led by 7 of Franco’s ministers to carry on the Francoist legacy. The People’s Alliance became the major component in the now governing People’s Party. It is a directly Francoist party.”

Julian Assange, who was erroneously criticized in the report by El País, expressed his view on the ongoing events in Spain via Twitter: “The future of Western civilization is being revealed in Catalonia as all modern control elements come into play and are resisted.” He also pointed out a number of inaccuracies in the El País article, later observing that the outlet appears to have bought a relatively large percentage of its twitter followers.

That over a dozen officials would be arrested in this climate is one of many severe tactics employed by Spanish authorities that have caused widespread concern. Since Disobedient Media’s earlier coverage of the situation in Spain, authorities have implemented several further repressive policies, even going to far as to seize control from local Catalan police forces in their efforts to prevent the vote.

Spanish riot police vans arrive in Catalan. Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Bloomberg reports that after initially resisting the move, local Catalan forces had finally acceded to Spanish control: “At first, Catalan interior chief Joaquim Forn said on Saturday his rebel administration rejected a national prosecutor’s order for central-government coordination of police in the run-up to the Oct. 1 vote. Hours later, Catalan police managers issued an internal memo saying that they’ll keep obeying orders from prosecutors and judges.”

In their efforts to control the ground, Spanish authorities were also reported to have used three large ferries to transport police to Catalan. Spanish press related that Spain’s interior ministry had: “chartered three ferries to house police sent to back up forces in Catalonia.”

Wikileaks further noted via Twitter that the large cruise liners in question included one ferry decorated with Looney Tunes characters, which were duly covered up in response to rising criticism. This author hesitates to draw a comparison between the literal ‘cover up’ of the ferry transporting riot police with current conditions in Spain.

The Guardian reports that Catalan President Carles Puigdemont responded to Spain’s severe actions, calling them a: “Massive and profoundly undemocratic overreaction… the state’s efforts to stop the looming referendum exceed the security measures used at the height of Eta’s terror campaign.”

As noted by Julian Assange, Diego Pérez de los Cobos,  appointed to lead Spanish police forces in their efforts to prevent the referendum, had been tried at one time for “torturing an ETA prisoner,” before eventually being exonerated. In an Op-Ed for The Guardian, Puigdemont wrote that: “freedom of information and freedom of assembly are being violated by Spain’s central government, which has sent the police to search newspapers, printing companies and private mail services; ban political meetings; seize referendum material; and threaten to imprison democratically elected politicians.”

A Looney Tunes character is covered up on the side of a cruise liner used to deliver Spanish riot police to Catalonia.

Puigdemont compared Catalan’s status to the Franco regime’s rule, calling conditions in Catalan: ” a de facto state of emergency…It’s a situation that harks back to the dark past of this country, when democracy was not a part of the Spanish dictionary. What is happening here in Catalonia would not happen anywhere else in the European Union.” Puigdemont explained that in his view, the current situation constitutes a violation of the European charter of fundamental human rights.

As Disobedient Media previously reported, a study published by the University of Geneva discusses the legality of Catalan’s right to self-determination. The introduction of the document states in part:

“Catalans constitute a European people without a State. In current international and European Law, “peoples” have the right to self-determination, meaning they can “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” … and thus choose for themselves a national project, which may lead to becoming a Nation-State. This right is recognized to “all peoples” and, contrary to a widely held belief, clearly not limited to people under colonial domination.”

Regardless of one’s opinion of the outcome of such a vote, it is of deep concern to those outside Spain that an EU member state would faces so little criticism from EU member states while preventing a democratic process in the most blatant possible manner. The EU has so far failed to intervene against this authoritarian action, instead giving implicit support for the crackdown while Spain continues to escalate overt oppression of its citizens and simultaneously attacking individuals and outlets that reports on the subject.

The increasingly authoritarian conditions in Spain should be considered a stain on the reputation of the European Union. Spain’s extreme sensitivity towards independent press reports on the subject underlines claims claims that Spain’s prevention of the referendum is distinctly un-democratic, increasing the importance of media coverage of the conditions in Catalan.

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