Some images of police brutality on polling day were faked, says Spain
Spain's foreign minister yesterday dismissed scenes of police violence against voters in the Catalonia independence referendum as “fake news”.
Live video and pictures of aggressive tactics by Spanish police filled social-media platforms and were beamed around the world, attracting condemnation by politicians internationally.
However, speaking on ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ on BBC One, Alfonso Dastis, an independent politician and a legal adviser to the United Nations, dismissed the images of Spanish brutality.
“Many of those pictures have proven to be fake pictures,” he said.
“If there was any use of force, it was a limited one, prompted by the fact that the law and order agencies were prevented from discharging the orders of the courts.”
Pressed by Mr Marr, the Spanish minister added: “I am not saying that all are fake pictures, but some of them are and there have been a lot of alternative facts and fake news”.
Mr Dastis also rebuffed criticism from Catalonia’s authorities of his government’s move to impose direct rule over the region on the weekend, saying: “If anyone has attempted a coup, it is the Catalan regional government.”
Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director of Human Rights Watch, responded by saying that the NGO’s “detailed investigation into three cases found that the national police and Civil Guard used excessive force”.
“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 Kartik Raj, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Media outlets around the world showed scenes in which voters or volunteers running polling stations were beaten with truncheons, had their hair pulled or were otherwise manhandled as Spanish security forces attempted to enforce a ban on the referendum, which was ruled unconstitutional by Spain’s courts.
A report on Catalonia’s referendum by independent election observers from The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies condemned the police violence that it said had caused injuries to “hundreds of voters” on polling day.
“The use of force displayed by the Spanish police has no place in established democracies,” the report said.
Catalonia’s health department has since released a breakdown of the 991 patients it says required treatment on October 1 as a result of the scenes of confrontation between the police and citizens at polling stations.
According to the data, the biggest reasons for treatment were contusions and multiple contusions, together accounting for 818 patients. Fifty people were reported to have suffered wounds and gashes, with another 30 listed as having suffered a head trauma or concussion.
Most of those affected were dealt with by mobile ambulance units or in health centres, while 38 needed hospital treatment.
Among those taken to hospital was a 38-year-old man treated for an eye injury believed to have been caused by the police firing rounds of rubber bullets, which were established to be projectiles used by Spain’s national police force in Barcelona.
Catalonia’s government claimed that 90pc of the 2.3 million people who voted had said yes to independence, which represents 38pc of the electorate.
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont claimed the result gave the region a mandate to declare independence. Madrid responded on Saturday by announcing the imposition of direct rule over Catalonia. Mr Puigdemont has said he will ask Catalonia’s parliament to debate and then take action against this “attempt to liquidate our self-government” in the coming days, prompting speculation that he was preparing to put a declaration of independence to a vote before calling regional elections.
However, the chief spokesman of Catalonia’s government said the calling of a snap election was “not on the table”. Jordi Turull, speaking on Catalonia’s RAC1 radio station yesterday, said he did not rule out a unilateral declaration of independence.
“What Catalonia is will be decided by the parliament legitimately elected by the citizens,” he said.
Mr Puigdemont has vowed to fight on even as prosecutors warned he could face up to 30 years in jail if he refuses to back down.
Supporters of the regional government flooded the centre of Barcelona on Saturday following Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s announcement on direct rule. Local police estimated a turnout out of around 450,000.
“The Catalan institutions and the Catalan people can’t accept this attack,” Mr Puigdemont said later. “We should defend our institutions as always in a peaceful manner, but also with dignity and with solid arguments.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)