Spanish officer refers to Catalan referendum voters as "criminals" over "verbal abuse”

A Guardia Civil lieutenant describes how two Mossos had to be pushed aside at a polling station in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada


“Hateful faces", “enraged countenances", scenes unheard of in decades of police work, with the Catalan police doing nothing or even getting in their way. Most Guardia Civil officers made similar claims while giving evidence relating to the referendum on the independence of Catalonia, on 1 October 2017, as did some of the officers who carried out searches from 19 to 20 September 2017 ahead of the vote, with the intention of preventing it from going ahead —although the latter spoke of the Catalan police’s cooperation. One of the officers who took part in an operation at a polling station in the town of Sant Andreu de la Barca described the voters who "verbally abused" the Spanish police officers as "criminals". "I don’t know if they insulted me for carrying out a court order or because I’m a Guardia Civil officer. What made an impact on me is the way they looked at me. I couldn’t say if their eyes showed contempt or hatred". Staff sergeant G3772B (1) declared that he had "never been spat at before" for doing his job, before recalling the insults from around twenty individuals who were gathered inside the polling station. The only physical confrontation the officer claimed that actually took place was when a member of the public attempted to bite one of the officers’ hands, although the defence teams pointed out that it must have been another part of his body.

Once the public had been removed from the surrounding area, the officer stated that his unit entered the polling station, where they found some 300 people sitting on the floor, making it difficult for them to seize the 2,500 ballots and voting envelopes they found on the premises. According to the officer, they managed to advance by being careful not to step on the members of the public, who did nothing to stop them. Later they were able to return to their vehicles, which were parked about 40 meters away. The officer also spoke of the attitude of the eight members of the Catalan police [or Mossos d’Esquadra] who "did not approach us" and merely watched on "passively", from "the other side of the street".

"The hatred was palpable"

Lieutenant U41506Z, who took part in an operation at another polling station in the town of Sant Joan de Vilatorrada, stated that "the hatred and rage were so palpable I don’t know how they had managed to contain it for so long". He denied having seen any demonstrator being injured, even though that day a total of 14 members of the public required medical attention for having been dragged down a flight of stairs. He also admitted that he did not know if the public were warned of the possible use of force by the Guardia Civil, though in his opinion any use of force was "totally proportionate and reasonable". Finally, he admitted that he knew at least one officer due to appear before the High Court of Barcelona indicted over the police charges. Nonetheless, he emphasized that he has been "personally affected" by the events which took place that day, which explains why he filed a complaint about a protest in a school where his son was asked to participate.

With regard to the part played by the Catalan police, the officer declared that two officers had tried to prevent him from entering the polling station and "demanded I show them a court order". "They physically refused to step aside and we had to push them with our shields", he stated, before going on to say that later "uniformed firefighters" appeared to "occupy the front line of resistance".

Another witness, the Guardia Civil officer with badge number W6816J, participated in the operation at a polling station in the town of Sant Martí de Sesgueioles. According to her statement, her unit found a group of members of the public seated "intertwined" on the ground, who refused to stand up when asked to. The officer went on to say that they gained access through a side door after removing several desks and chairs, despite attempts to "overpower" the police line by "pushing and shoving" them. The Guardia Civil stated that when they managed to enter the premises they found a cardboard ballot box from 9-N [A non-binding Catalan self-determination referendum, held on 9 November 2014], before realising the town’s mayor had posted on her Facebook wall that the vote had taken place in someone’s garage.

In reply to questions put to them by lawyers representing the Catalan political leaders who are on trial, the witness denied any knowledge of the presence of a plainclothes Guardia Civil officer, a demonstrator who was wearing a balaclava, who stood up during the incident and eventually left along with the other officers. She also denied having heard the audio recordings in which Guardia Civil officers refer to members of the public as “motherf*****s”, and one of them saying he would "beat them up like there is no tomorrow". She also claimed not to know why the footage that the Guardia Civil submitted as evidence had the audio track removed.

Translator’s note:

(1) Lower-ranking Spanish police and Guardia Civil officers who take the witness stand in the trial of the twelve Catalan independence leaders are named by their badge number only.

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