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Civil Guard searches newspaper in Catalonia over referendum links

Police follow up investigation into use of premises to prepare pro-independence campaign material

Spain’s Civil Guard searched the premises of a weekly newspaper in Valls, a small town in Tarragona, in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia on Saturday, suspecting it of preparing election material for the illegal October 1 independence referendum. The editor of El Vallenc, Francesc Fàbregas, was summoned to make a statement at a police station, where he refused to answer questions.

El Vallenc
Police officers and protesters at ‘El Vallenc’ on Saturday.

Officers checked computer equipment and questioned the manager and other employees, while police maintained a presence outside the building, attracting protesters. Pro-independence activists held up signs supporting the referendum.

The search is related to an investigation into the activities of the Indugraf printing firm in the nearby town of Constantí, which has now been searched twice as part of an investigation into its role in preparing material for the referendum. Police suspect Albert Batet, the mayor of Valls and a regional deputy for the pro-independence coalition Junts Pel Sí that governs in Catalonia, of coordinating the printing of election material. Batet has denied the accusation and described the police operation as “comical.” A daughter of the editor of the weekly is a member of Valls town council.

The Civil Guard said the search was to discover election materials and who gave the order to print them

Carles Puigdemont, the head of the regional government of Catalonia, criticized the search, tweeting: “I support El Vallenc in an operation that was not looking for ballots, but looking for trouble.” The Catalan Journalists’ Association condemned the search, saying information and journalism are “fundamental rights” in a democracy.

The Civil Guard said in a statement that the search was not an attempt at censorship, but part of an investigation into the preparation of election material for a referendum that Spain’s Constitutional Court has ruled illegal.

English version by Debora Almeida.

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