Mossos shut down twice as many polling stations as Spanish police on referendum day

Catalonia’s law enforcement officers closed off over 130 polling stations without resorting to violence

On October 1 (the day of Catalonia’s independence vote), the Mossos d’Esquadra shut down twice as many polling stations as Spain’s Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil combined, according to Catalan police figures. And, unlike Spain’s law enforcement officers, they did so without incident or charging against the general public. Catalan police sources indicate that they closed off between 130 and 140 polling places, whereas Spanish police shut down between 60 and 70. At five pm on October 1, Spain’s Interior Ministry wrote on Twitter that its Guardia Civil and Policía Nacional units had closed off 92 polling stations in Catalonia. However, some were reopened later in the day, which might partly account for the discrepancy in the numbers. The initial police deployment was conducted in the morning, so the number is unlikely to have risen after 5 pm.

All three law enforcement agencies took action against the list of polling stations attached to the writ issued by judge Mercedes Amadas of Catalonia’s High Court, who had instructed law enforcement to stop the vote on October 1. Following her orders, Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra got down to work on Friday night. By 6 am on Sunday October 1, they had already secured 400 public buildings or venues offering public services that were meant to be used as polling stations later that day. The 400 venues either hadn’t been occupied by the general public [to prevent a police intervention] or those who were on the premises had left. In all 400 places, the Mossos left a police squad to ensure that they would not be reopened. A Mossos source noted that the 130-140 polling places which the Catalan police shut down on Sunday itself included a range of situations. In some cases, for instance, not enough members of the public had gathered to offer any effective resistance and, in other cases, they agreed to leave.

Catalan police officers had been ordered to act in accordance with the principles of “consistency, opportunity and proportionality” and “containment and mediation”. They had to avoid using force and, faced with passive disobedience, they were only expected to “escort people outside” or open a corridor to enter the premises.

533 injured people file a complaint

Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra shut down many more polling stations for the self-determination referendum than the two Spanish police forces combined and, unlike them, they did not use physical force, as per the instructions issued by their commanding officers. It is worth mentioning that, according to the Catalan Health Ministry, 893 people were hurt when riot police of Spain’s Guardia Civil and Policía Nacional stormed polling stations. By Thursday, the Mossos had already received 271 formal complaints, some filed jointly, by 533 people who had been hurt, according to Spanish news agency EFE. Only on Thursday, over one hundred complaints were lodged. Spain’s Interior Ministry claims that 431 Spanish officers were injured during the raids.

On Thursday, a group of mid-ranking Spanish police officers wrote a letter to Barcelona daily El Periódico to “apologise wholeheartedly for the excessive force” used in the police operation that failed to stop the vote. Even though they also criticised the behaviour of the Mossos and some of the people gathered to protect polling stations, they admitted that they were “indignant over the incompetence, laxness and lack of security expertise and knowledge about the social situation in Catalonia by the Spanish authorities”. Furthermore, they wrote that the referendum could have been stopped without having to evict anybody from polling stations, just by merely setting up a police cordon at the entrance to the buildings.

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