Spanish prosecutors formally accuse Barcelona protesters of sedition

Protest saw Civil Guard cars vandalized; Madrid to send police reinforcements to Catalonia before referendum

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido.
Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido.Santi Donaire (EFE)

Spanish state prosecutors on Friday lodged a formal accusation of sedition against individuals thought to be responsible for the disturbances of Wednesday night in Barcelona, when Civil Guard patrol cars were vandalized and officers had to be escorted out of the Economic Affairs Department building by the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

The protests came after the Civil Guard on Wednesday staged a large operation against organizers of a planned independence referendum in Catalonia that resulted in dozens of searches and 14 arrests, including top Catalan government officials. Around nine million ballot papers were confiscated, seriously compromising the logistics of the vote.

The crime of sedition entails prison terms of up to 15 years

The criminal complaint of sedition names Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Ómnium, two civic associations that have been highly active in generating social support for secession from Spain.

The crime of sedition is described in section 544 of Spain’s Criminal Code, and entails prison terms of up to 15 years for anyone found guilty of “a public and tumultuous uprising” in order to “prevent the application of the laws, either by force or outside the legal channels.” It is also sedition to “prevent any authority, official corporation or public servant from carrying out the legitimate exercise of their duties.”

The complaint will be considered by Judge Ismael Moreno of the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s central criminal court. Prosecutors state that on Wednesday night, “individuals whom it was not possible to identify took advantage of the situation, as there were around 2,000 people present, to puncture the tires of several Civil Guard patrol cars parked outside the Economic Affairs Department, in order to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate orders.”

Students occupied Barcelona University on Friday to support the independence referendum.
Students occupied Barcelona University on Friday to support the independence referendum.PACO PUENTES (EL PAIS)

Protesters also issued threats against the Civil Guard, chanting slogans such as “no sortireu (you will not get out].” The complaint goes on to state that the Judicial Committee made up of Civil Guard officers and a state lawyer “had to leave in the early morning hours through the rooftop, as demonstrators prevented them from walking out the door.”

The current criminal code makes a difference between crimes “against public order,” which include sedition, and crimes “against the Constitution,” the first of which is rebellion.

Police reinforcements

Spain’s Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido on Friday sent an official note to Catalan authorities informing them that “the government has decided to send reinforcement units from the State’s law enforcement agencies to Catalonia.”

Zoido’s message to the Catalan chief of internal affairs, Joaquim Forn, details plans to have nearly 6,000 extra officers in Catalonia in time for October 1, the day when the Catalan government is planning to hold an independence referendum in violation of Spanish laws and courts.

Three large ferries are already berthed at the ports of Barcelona and Tarragona to provide this law enforcement contingent with accommodation for at least 15 days. Groups of national police and Civil Guard officers have been gradually arriving in the northeastern region for two weeks.

A vandalized Civil Guard patrol car outside the regional department of economic affairs on Wednesday night.
A vandalized Civil Guard patrol car outside the regional department of economic affairs on Wednesday night.Albert Garcia (EL PAÍS)

The Spanish government has vowed to uphold the Constitution and stop the ballot from taking place. Catalonia’s separatist governing coalition has promised that the vote will go ahead no matter what, and said that they only answer to their own parallel laws that were recently fast-tracked through the regional parliament.

Zoido’s message on Friday warned that the police units will be “in charge of watching public spaces and maintaining the peace, and will act in the event that the illegal referendum takes place.”

University protest

But public support for the referendum continued on Friday, when around 3,000 students filled the Historical Building at the University of Barcelona (UB) to demand to vote in a ballot that has been suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

The manifesto rejected the Spanish government’s handling of events, said that there is no going back, and that the October 1 referendum “cannot be stopped.”

The event was organized by a pro-independence group called “Universities For a Republic,” with the participation of elected officials to the left of the political spectrum. Joan Josep Nuet, a deputy for Catalunya Sí que es Pot, defended holding “a general strike so that the tension will not come down.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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