‘Help Catalonia’: a video full of falsehoods

Propaganda-style film by Catalan independence association Òmnium Cultural is based on misinformation

The Òmnium Cultural association, which is in favor of Catalan independence, has published a video in English with the title “Help Catalonia. Save Europe.” The video denounces the Spanish central government for attacking what it describes as Catalan “human rights.”

The recording takes inspiration from a Ukrainian video that was circulated in February 2014, and which called on the European Union (EU) for help in the face of a serious crisis that the country was going through at the time.

The ‘I am a Ukrainian’ video.

The propaganda-style video portrays Catalonia in almost a state of war, where residents of the northeastern Spanish region are submitted to supposed state repression. A woman speaks in anguish on behalf of all Catalans to a European audience to call on the EU not to forget about the region.

These are the falsehoods contained within the video:

“In Catalonia, the values of freedom, democracy, human rights and social rights are being attacked”

Spain is an advanced democracy that guarantees the freedoms of all its citizens and respects individual and collective rights. The courts uphold the rule of law and the division of powers. In addition, the country has signed all United Nations agreements on human rights and freedoms, is a member of the European Union and the Council of Europe, and is a signatory of all agreements on human rights and freedom of the latter two bodies. Freedom House, an organization that promotes freedom and human rights, awarded Spain a score of 94 out of 100 on political and civil rights.

“What crime had these people committed? Going out to vote”

The video refers to the independence referendum held on October 1, previously suspended by the Constitutional Court. It suggests that the National Police and Civil Guard intervention was aimed at preventing citizens’ right to vote. But in fact, the police were enforcing a judicial ruling to prevent the referendum, which was illegal. They did this in the face of the inaction of the region’s police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, who refused to act.

Hechos blog

This article was originally posted on the EL PAÍS Hechos (facts) blog, which aims to analyze and pick apart fake news and falsehoods.

“The Spanish Government declared the vote illegal”

In Spain, the executive branch does not have the power to outlaw a referendum. It was the Constitutional Court, the ultimate interpreter of the Spanish Constitution, that suspended the poll on independence from going ahead.

“Thousands of police were sent to raid pro-independence media offices and shut down hundreds of websites”

The police did not attack the media or shut down websites. What happened between September 30 and October 1 was that Civil Guard officers entered the Catalan Center for Telecommunications and Information Technology (CTTI) to comply with the order from the Catalan regional High Court to block websites that tried to facilitate the poll and the vote count. Officers had previously entered the offices of the weekly newspaper El Vallenc because ballot papers were being printed there.

“The police arrested 14 Catalan government officials without any court orders”

This is a completely false statement. The Civil Guard arrested 14 people on September 20 for their alleged participation in the organization of the independence referendum. Of those, 11 occupied a public role, while three were private citizens who were arrested for their alleged involvement of the illegal poll. They were the director of a multinational, the manager of an advertising agency, and the owner of a warehouse where referendum voting slips were found. The officers did not act without a court order. A judge in Barcelona ordered the operation.

“Spanish police used a degree of force never before seen in a European Union member state”

The government sent the National Police and the Civil Guard to stop the independence referendum from going ahead on October 1. Human Rights Watch has stated that “on some occasions” the officers used excessive force in the three analyzed cases on the day of the vote. Those were in the Catalan city of Girona, in Barcelona, and in a town in Girona province. The European Commission denounced the violence exercised by the police at some polling stations. Indeed, the images from that day show that there were injuries as a result of the police charge.

However, the regional government stated that 893 people were injured – and that “this number of injuries has not existed in Europe since World War II.” That total is questionable, because out of all those people, only four needed hospital treatment, two with minor injuries and two in a serious condition. Just to cite a recent case, the G-20 riots held last July in Hamburg resulted in the injuries of around 1,000 people.

“90% of Catalans voted in favor of independence”

This figure is distorted, and refers to the result made public by the Catalan government. But the vote took place without any democratic guarantees and as such the count cannot be validated. It cannot be assumed that 90% of Catalans are in favor of independence. According to data from the Catalan government, 2,286.217 people voted out of a total census of 5,313,564, meaning that participation was at 43.03% of the total census. Of these, 90.18% (2,044,038 people) voted yes to independence. That means that only 38.47% of the census voted yes to independence.

“It concerns each and every European citizen”

The video insists on involving Europe in the Catalan question. However, all EU institutions have concluded that this is internal Spanish matter. The president of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, has stated that “the Commission complies with what the Constitution and the Spanish parliament says.” The president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, has stressed that, “if a part of a member state proclaims itself independent, it automatically becomes a third state and leaves the European Union.”

“We, as Catalans…”

The woman who appears in the video claims to speak on behalf of all Catalans. The massive demonstration in Barcelona on October 8 in Barcelona, which was called in defense of the Spanish Constitution and the unity of Spain, shows that not all Catalans subscribe to the sentiments expressed in the video.

English version by Debora Almeida.


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