Catalan referendum: Dangerous use of force by Spanish police confirmed by Amnesty

Spanish authorities must carry out a swift, thorough and impartial investigation after Amnesty International observers in Catalonia confirmed excessive and unnecessary use of force by police, including the beating of defenceless people and the use of rubber balls to subdue peaceful protesters.

A team of Amnesty observers confirmed that members of the National Police force's Police Intervention Unit (UIP) and Civil Guard officers used excessive and disproportionate force against demonstrators who were passively resisting in the streets and at entrances to polling stations.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:

“In several cases, the actions of National Police and Civil Guard officers involved excessive and unnecessary use of force, and the dangerous use of riot control equipment, injuring hundreds of peaceful protesters”.

Dangerous use of ammunition

The five-person Amnesty delegation has been monitoring the situation in Catalonia for several days, including the afternoon of Saturday 30 September and Sunday 1 October when they visited numerous polling stations.

They documented dangerous and inappropriate use of riot control equipment, rubber balls and rubber truncheons by National Police officers during an incident at the junction of Calle Sardenya and Calle Diputación in Barcelona.

Two Amnesty observers also witnessed a charge by officers trying to clear the way after a group of demonstrators sat in the street to block the passage of a police intervention at Ramon Lull state school to remove the ballot boxes from the polling station.

After having been blocked by the demonstrators for almost half an hour, the officers forced them to move by beating them with their rubber truncheons. Meanwhile, other officers fired blank ammunition, causing the protesters to stand up and start to disperse. The police vans advanced quickly down Calle Sardenya. Some demonstrators threw objects at the police as they continued firing blanks.

According to testimonies gathered by Amnesty, as the officers withdrew, they also fired rubber balls at demonstrators who were running after them, wounding at least two people. Reportedly, one person was hit in the leg and the other in the right eye, and the second person underwent surgery at Sant Pau Hospital.

Esteban Beltrán, Director of Amnesty International in Spain, said:

“The National Police and Civil Guard were clearly obstructed in performing their duties at numerous polling stations. However, there is a great deal of information available showing that police officers used excessive and disproportionate force. Those acts should be investigated and those responsible brought to justice. These kinds of incidents should never happen again.”

Police beatings at polling stations

Amnesty has also received accounts and has seen images showing that officers used riot control equipment and excessive force against people who had gathered in the vicinity of certain schools, such as Escuela Mediterrània in the Barceloneta district of Barcelona. Media images show how, outside this polling station, police officers beat defenceless people who posed no apparent threat.

According to reports, one officer beat a woman around the neck and face on at least two occasions, without any apparent provocation. In the same footage, another National Police officer can be seen punching a man in the face. Similarly, images filmed in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada in Barcelona show a Civil Guard officer hitting demonstrators in the face with his rubber truncheon as they surrounded the polling station.

Amnesty demands that the Spanish authorities urgently launch a thorough, immediate and impartial investigation into the excessive and disproportionate use of force by members of the National Police and Civil Guard.

Any use of force by law enforcement officials should be in compliance with international law and standards, and be subject to review. If the investigation concludes that excessive force was used, those responsible should be subjected to the appropriate criminal or disciplinary procedures. The misuse of force by law enforcement officers must be treated as a crime.

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