HRW: Spanish police used excessive force in Catalonia

EPA/TONI GARRIGA

HRW: Spanish police used excessive force in Catalonia


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Spanish police engaged in excessive force when confronting demonstrators in Catalonia during a disputed referendum, using batons to hit non-threatening protesters and causing multiple injuries, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch received many allegations of unjustified police use of force on October 1, 2017, and carried out on-site investigations after the poll to document specific incidents.

Human Rights Watch spoke to victims and witnesses and reviewed video, photographic, and medical evidence from the city of Girona and two villages in Girona and Barcelona provinces. Human Rights Watch found that the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) or National Police Corps (Cuerpo Nacional de Policia) at times used excessive force in all three locations on October 1 as they sought to execute court orders to prevent the poll.

“Our detailed investigation into three cases found that national police and Civil Guard officers used excessive force on October 1 in Catalonia,” said Kartik Raj, Western Europe Researcher at Human Rights Watch. “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.”

Despite being declared unconstitutional by Spain’s constitutional court, the Catalonia referendum took place on October 1. Across the region, the two police forces sent in by the central government, along with the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s police force, sought to execute a court order to stop the referendum that also required them to respect “the coexistence between citizens.” They confronted largely peaceful protestors, although there were incidents in which some responded to the national forces with violence.

Hundreds were left injured, some seriously. Catalonia’s Health Department estimated on October 2 that 893 people had reported injuries to the authorities. Spain’s Ministry of the Interior said on October 1 that 19 national police and 14 Civil Guards had required urgent medical assistance, and that an “innumerable number of others” were injured.

Following the referendum, Human Rights Watch documented excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators by Civil Guards or national police at a primary school in Girona being used as a polling station, and in the hillside villages of Aiguaviva (Girona province) and Fonollosa (Barcelona province). Human Rights Watch received other allegations and purported evidence of police ill-treatment, which it has not been able to verify or examine in detail, along with instances of assaults on police officers by some demonstrators.

Footage and photos published by the media and uploads to social networks reviewed by Human Rights Watch appear to show many other instances of manifestly disproportionate use of force against people assembled peacefully in and around polling stations, expressing their political opinion, and in some cases using non-violent disobedience to obstruct police.

The Spanish government has insisted that all actions by law enforcement officers “were prudent, appropriate and proportionate to the objective of ensuring compliance with the law and the rights of all citizens,” and further said that the police actions “were not directed against citizens or their ideas.” On October 6, however, the central government’s representative in the region expressed regret and apologized for the police interventions during a television interview.

The Spanish government has an obligation to ensure that an effective investigation is carried out into the allegations of excessive use of force, including the serious incidents documented by Human Rights Watch. Given the current tensions between the central and regional authorities and complex questions of jurisdiction, Spain should consider asking for assistance from an independent international expert body, Human Rights Watch said. As of October 8, 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.

In Girona (population 98,255), Human Rights Watch interviewed 37 people who experienced or witnessed police violence, 15 of whom showed evidence of injuries they said were due to police ill-treatment. Witnesses at the Coŀlegi Verd primary school polling station on Carrer Joan Maragall told Human Rights Watch that shortly after 9 a.m. on October 1, national police used batons and shields to charge repeatedly at a cordon of people who had linked arms to stop them entering through the school gate, hitting the protestors on their heads, arms, legs, and torsos. The police did not issue a warning before charging, and fired blanks into the air, frightening young children who were present.

Footage and evidence seen by Human Rights Watch corroborates witness accounts that once inside the school compound, national police officers struck people with batons, bruising them. One parent who reported being hit was an off-duty policeman in the Mossos, and another injured was an off-duty firefighter.

 

 

 

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