The top commanders of the Spanish police who were on the ground on 1 October 2017 —the day of Catalonia’s independence referendum— have again contradicted the version of the events given by Spain’s former junior minister for Security, José Antonio Nieto, who has always denied that any specific orders were issued to target voters at polling stations. During a court appearance on Thursday last week before the judge who is probing police violence in Barcelona city, four police commanding officers admitted that they were ordered to take action before the polling stations had opened for voting. The order came from an unnamed police commissioner using the callsign “Marte” [“Mars” in Spanish] who might possibly be the chief of the Spanish riot police (UIP in Spanish), José Miguel Ruiz Iguzquiza. On Monday this week another four Spanish police inspectors declared that they were issued instructions on how to act on the day of the referendum several days before the vote was held. This newspaper has learnt from court sources that, for instance, on Friday September 29 2017 they were given a list of polling stations and the next morning they reconnoitred all of them to establish which would make a more “viable” target, should they be ordered to take action.
Monday’s session was the first in the case of the police violence on October 1 in Barcelona where the city’s lawyers were no longer present in court. Up until last Thursday the city of Barcelona was a separate plaintiff in the case, but the court excluded the council following a request from the State Attorney and the Prosecutor’s Office. The decision by the Barcelona court might have a knock-on effect on similar cases where other local governments are standing as a plaintiff. At the end of Monday’s session the private plaintiffs in the Barcelona case slammed the court’s decision. Anaïs Franquesa, Roger Español’s counsel and a lawyer with Irídia (a human rights group), stated that the decision to exclude the council was “unacceptable” considering that “it was doing the job that the public prosecution should have been doing from day 1, but never did” and she pointed out that the Public Prosecutor’s stance was in line with the defence strategy of the police officers who stand accused in the case.
Two briefings about polling stations and communications
Last Thursday during their testimony before the judge who is probing the police violence in Barcelona on October 1 2017, Francisco Miralles, four of the eight high-ranking police officers being probed admitted that they had been ordered to intervene before the polling stations even opened. Sources familiar with the case have told this newspaper that on Monday they indicated that the order came from an unnamed police commissioner using the callsign “Marte”, which the plaintiffs claim is José Miguel Iguzquiza, the commander of Spain’s riot police. The order was issued shortly after eight in the morning and they had had two separate meetings with him since the Friday before in order to receive other instructions. Specifically, two briefings were held —according to our sources— to discuss the polling stations and the communication channels that the police would use on the day of the referendum.
On Monday the inspectors allegedly stated in court that during the briefing of Friday September 29, 2017 they were issued a list of the polling stations that they were expected to target when the order was given. The next morning the commanding officers recced all of them to establish which ones would allow for a faster, more effective operation: they studied how many exit routes were available and whether they were easily accessible from the street, among other aspects. That same Saturday they had another briefing in the afternoon, this time to inform them that two communication channels would be used: police radios and mobile phones, the latter to be used if radio channels became jammed. The plaintiffs have repeatedly asked to have access to the mobile phone communications, which have not ben included in the case file, to no avail. Only short snippets of radio conversations exist.
When former junior minister José Antonio Nieto took the witness stand in this case and in Madrid’s Supreme Court, he not only denied that specific orders to take action were ever given on October 1, but he also claimed that it was the commanding officers on the ground who had themselves decided to take action, once the polling stations were open and they realised the Catalan police were not preventing the vote from going ahead. At the end of Monday’s court session Lluís Mestres, a lawyer who represents several people [injured by the Spanish police], declared that after hearing the inspectors’ testimony “it is blatantly obvious that they received instructions well before the polling places opened” regardless of whether “the Catalan police took any action or not”. Anaïs Franquesa believes that the two meetings held prior to October 1 suggest that the officers might have been given additional instructions, for instance as to whether to make any arrests or when to use their batons.
The plaintiffs that remain in the case will consider whether they request that the chief of the UIP be summoned, either as a witness or a defendant, as well as other high-ranking officers who are also involved, such as the commander of the Spanish Police Intelligence Unit, someone whom the plaintiffs believe to have played a key role in the police operation on October 1. As many as fifty police officers are being probed in the case of the police violence in Barcelona city, which is now entering its final stage.