Catalan leader accuses Spain of violating rights in referendum row

Spanish government acting ‘beyond the limits of a respectable democracy’ but vote will go ahead, says Carles Puigdemont

Carles Puigdemont: Spain’s attempt to block Catalonia’s referendum is a violation of our basic rights

The regional president of Catalonia has accused the Spanish government of acting “beyond the limits of a respectable democracy” and violating fundamental rights as it strives to prevent an independence referendum from being held in 10 days’ time.

Writing in the Guardian a day after Spanish Guardia Civil officers raided regional government buildings and arrested 14 senior officials, Carles Puigdemont insisted the vote would go ahead as “ballot boxes and a peaceful attitude” are the only weapons left to those who want independence.

“Catalan home rule has effectively been suspended due to this anti-democratic attitude from the Spanish government,” he wrote.

“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 said requests for negotiations with the Madrid government had been ignored dozens of times, and the Spanish executive was refusing to entertain any dialogue on the issue.

“Instead of engaging in discourse, the Spanish government has opted for police and judges, taking us beyond the limits of a respectable democracy,” he wrote. “With the arrests of high-ranking officials and threats to detain democratically elected politicians, I believe the Spanish government has violated the European charter of fundamental rights.”

However, despite his assertion that the Spanish government was deliberately targeting officials, Wednesday’s arrests were ordered by a judge in Barcelona and not by anyone in Madrid.

Puigdemont’s accusations came as Catalonia’s regional vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, admitted the arrests – and the seizure of almost 10m ballot papers – had changed “the state of play”.

“The circumstances today are different because a significant part of our team, half of the economics team, has been arrested,” he said.

“That [the referendum] cannot be held in the circumstances that we wanted is obvious.”

Protesters in Barcelona
Protesters in Barcelona waved Catalan independence flags. Photograph: Marta Perez/EPA

The arrests led to about 40,000 people taking to the streets of Barcelona on Wednesday night. On Thursday, thousands of people gathered outside the Catalan high court to demand the release of the arrested officials. Some waved Catalan independence flags and chanted: “We will vote!”

Jordi Sànchez, president of the leading independence organisation the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), told the crowds: “We will be here, peacefully but present, until all of the arrested walk out free.”

Malena Palau, a 21-year-old student, said she and her fellow protesters were not afraid and wanted to exercise their democratic freedoms in the referendum.

“We want to vote because we have the right to decide, regardless of what we vote,” she told the Associated Press.

In a TV address on Wednesday night, the Spanish prime minister warned Puigdemont and others to stop chasing the “chimera” of a referendum. “Don’t go ahead,” Mariano Rajoy said. “Go back to the law and democracy.”

The Spanish finance minister, Luis de Guindos, said fresh negotiations on securing Catalonia a better deal could be held if the independence movement agreed to cancel the referendum.

“Once independence plans are dropped, we can talk,” he told the Financial Times.

Rajoy’s government has repeatedly vowed to prevent the vote from taking place, arguing that any referendum on Catalan independence would be illegal because Spain’s 1978 constitution makes no provision for a vote on self-determination.

The constitutional court has suspended a referendum law that was pushed through the Catalan parliament a fortnight ago and is investigating whether the law breaches the constitution. It has also warned Catalan officials that they could be fined up to €12,000 (£10,500) a day if they carry on organising the vote.

Puigdemont and his fellow independence campaigners maintain that Catalonia has a right to self-determination and argue their unilateral referendum is justified and will be legally binding.

But the Venice Commission – a panel of experts who advise the Council of Europe on constitutional law – has told Puigdemont that the referendum would have to be carried out “in agreement with the Spanish authorities … and in full compliance with the constitution and the applicable legislation”.

The Spanish government has recently stepped up its efforts to head off the vote by launching a crackdown on the regional government’s finances, limiting new credit and requiring central supervision for payment of non-essential services.

On Tuesday the Guardia Civil confiscated referendum documents from the offices of a private delivery firm in the Catalan city of Terrassa. More than 1.5m referendum leaflets and posters have also been seized.

The interior ministry has cancelled leave for all the Guardia Civil and national police officers tasked with stopping the vote.

Thursday also saw an intervention from the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, whose Scottish National party lost a 2014 independence referendum agreed with the British government.

Sturgeon called for dialogue between the two sides, saying it was preferable to the sight of police officers confiscating ballot papers.

“It is of course entirely legitimate for Spain to oppose independence for Catalonia, but what I think is of concern anywhere is for a state to seek to deny the right of a people to democratically express their will,” she said.

“The right of self-determination is an important international principle, and I hope very much that it will be respected in Catalonia and everywhere else.”

Although more than 70% of Catalonia’s 7.5 million people are in favour of holding a referendum, surveys suggest they are fairly evenly split on the issue of independence. A survey two months ago showed 49.4% of Catalans were against independence while 41.1% were in favour.

More than 80% of participants opted for independence in a symbolic vote three years ago, although only 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.4 million eligible voters took part.


Sam Jones in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Spain: government apologises for policing of Catalan referendum
Senior official says he apologises on behalf of officers but says Catalan government is to blame for unrest

Sam Jones in Madrid

06, Oct, 2017 @1:57 PM

Article image
Catalan leader calls for mediation with Spain over independence
Carles Puigdemont says commission ‘cannot look the other way’ after almost 900 were injured in referendum crackdown

Sam Jones and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

02, Oct, 2017 @1:26 PM

Article image
Catalan leader accuses Spanish government of Franco-style crackdown
Carles Puigdemont says flooding region with police to stop looming referendum is a massive, undemocratic overreaction

Sam Jones in Barcelona

22, Sep, 2017 @4:34 PM

Article image
Catalan campaigners hand out a million referendum ballots
Thousands gather across Catalonia to show support for 1 October independence vote that Madrid has vowed to stop

Sam Jones in Madrid

24, Sep, 2017 @3:30 PM

Article image
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont remanded in custody in Germany
German authorities have 60 days in which to decide on Spain’s extradition request

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona and Philip Oltermann in Berlin

26, Mar, 2018 @6:33 PM

Article image
UN rights experts criticise Spanish efforts to block Catalan vote
Duo say measures taken to halt independence referendum appear to violate fundamental individual rights

Sam Jones in Madrid, Stephen Burgen in Barcelona and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

28, Sep, 2017 @5:34 PM

Article image
European arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont
Spanish judge’s move comes day after former members of Catalan cabinet remanded in custody over region’s independence push

Sam Jones in Madrid and Daniel Boffey in Brussels

03, Nov, 2017 @9:54 PM

Article image
Catalan leader faces dilemma as silent majority finds its voice
Barcelona demonstrators give their own verdict on independence question, but have they left it too late?

Simon Tisdall

08, Oct, 2017 @5:00 PM

Article image
Catalan president accuses Mariano Rajoy of ignoring call for talks
Carles Puigdemont attacks Spanish government for threat to suspend regional autonomy after he sought dialogue

Sam Jones in Barcelona

12, Oct, 2017 @1:05 PM

Article image
Catalan leader cannot leave jail to attend debate, court rules
Regional presidency candidate Jordi Sànchez refused permission to go to investiture debate

Sam Jones in Madrid

09, Mar, 2018 @3:27 PM