Cameraman assaulted at protest against pro-Catalan independence symbols

The journalist was punched in the head while filming the demonstration, which was called to support a woman who was allegedly attacked for taking down yellow ribbons

Video images of the assault on Wednesday night.
Elsa García de Blas

A cameraman for the regional public television station Telemadrid was punched a number of times at a demonstration on Wednesday to support a woman who was allegedly attacked for taking down yellow ribbons, a symbol that represents support for pro-independence Catalan politicians currently in pre-trial custody.

The cameraman was mistaken for an employee of the pro-independence Catalan broadcaster TV3

The journalist told Spanish news agency EFE that the incident occurred when a woman mistook him as an employee of TV3 – the Catalan national broadcaster that has been a strong supporter of the independence movement – and told him to stop filming her. This prompted others in the crowd to yell at and push the cameraman, before two middle-aged punched the journalist in the head.

The cameraman, who had to be taken away by an ambulance, says he heard people scream “get out TV3” during the attack. He added that he has also been abused while covering pro-independence protests but said that this was the first time he had been physically hurt at one.

Protesters at the demonstration in Barcelona.
Protesters at the demonstration in Barcelona.G3-CAT (GTRES)

Center-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens), which organized the protest, has condemned the violence and blamed it on “an infiltrator from a radical group with no connection to Ciudadanos.”

Ciudadanos has blamed the incident on “an infiltrator from a radical group”

The party called the demonstration on Monday after the wife of one of their members was allegedly attacked by a man for taking down yellow ribbons at the entrance to Ciudadela Park in Barcelona and left with a broken nose. The man however, claims his actions were not politically motivated, arguing he criticized the woman for removing the symbols because she was littering the street.

The demonstration on Wednesday evening was attended by around 600 people, according to the Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, while Ciudadanos put the figure at a thousand. Many of those who attended carried the Spanish flag and banners with messages such as “Freedom,” and “The streets are for everyone,” as well as “I am Spanish,” and “Puigdemont to prison,” in reference to the ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled Spain to Brussels to avoid facing charges for his involvement in the independence drive.

Politicans Albert Rivera and Ines Arrimadas during the demonstration in Barcelona.
Politicans Albert Rivera and Ines Arrimadas during the demonstration in Barcelona.G3-CAT (GTRES)

Ciudadanos president Albert Rivera and the party leader of the Catalan branch, Inés Arrimadas, also attended the protest after earlier taking part in a symbolic act to remove yellow ribbons from a Catalan town. Rivera has accused Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of “abandoning millions of Catalans” to “social division and breakdown of social harmony.”

The dispute over the yellow ribbons has intensified this summer, with Ciudadanos and other organizations launching a series of actions to encourage people to remove pro-independence symbols from public spaces. A group of 80 people this week staged an operation to take down such items from a small town in Catalonia, while dressed in white suits and wearing masks, and this August a small plane has been flying over the beaches of Catalonia with the message: “The beaches are for everyone. Take down the yellow ribbons” – a reference to a violent scuffle on Canet de Mar beach over yellow crosses that had been posted in support of the jailed pro-independence leaders.

What do the yellow ribbons symbolize?

A number of pro-independence leaders and Catalan politicians – including the former leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party, Oriol Junqueras – have been in custody since November while they await trial for their role in the independence drive in the region last year.

An illegal referendum on secession from Spain was held on October 1, and a unilateral declaration of independence was passed through the regional government at the end of that month. In response, the Spanish government used Article 155 of the Constitution to suspend the region's autonomous powers, and sacked the government.

Some of the politicians involved – including then-regional premier Carles Puigdemont – fled Spain to avoid arrest, while others were detained and denied bail, on the basis they might reoffend and that they presented a flight risk.

The yellow ribbons have since become a symbol of support for the release of these jailed politicians and former pro-independence association leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, but have proved to be a point of conflict between citizens who have opposing views on the issues in question.

Between July and August, there have been more than 20 altercations between separatists and those who favor unity and want the pro-independence symbols gone, in particular the yellow ribbons.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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