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Catalan mayors who pledged help with poll are placed under investigation

While they face arrest, colleagues who refuse to help hold referendum get threats from separatists

The mayors of L'Hospitalet and Barcelona with Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont.
The mayors of L'Hospitalet and Barcelona with Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont. EFE

Mayors across Catalonia are feeling the pressure from the public as they decide whether or not to help organize an illegal independence referendum on October 1. While some are facing arrest, others have received threats.

Every mayor in Catalonia who has offered to help hold the vote on the region’s future on October 1 has now been placed under investigation and will be summoned to appear before state prosecutors to provide statements.

I’ve been told to leave Terrassa, that I’m never going to wake up again

Jordi Ballart, mayor of Terrassa

Judicial police officers will be sent to all municipalities that answered affirmatively to a letter sent by regional premier Carles Puigdemont asking for assistance with the logistics of the vote. If any mayors refuse to show up, arrest warrants will be issued and the regional police force instructed to take the offenders into custody “with the shortest possible delay.”

Barcelona and six other cities with more than 100,000 residents, representing over a third of the entire population of Catalonia, have declined to lend municipal premises to the cause, arguing that the Spanish Constitution prohibits it. But another 654 localities, mostly small in size, have agreed to participate in a referendum that the Spanish courts have already deemed illegal.

Instructions issued by a legal group on what to do in the event of an arrest over the referendum.
Instructions issued by a legal group on what to do in the event of an arrest over the referendum.

Given the sheer number of participating towns, prosecutors will first target “those with the largest populations.”

A group called the Association of Pro-Independence Municipalities has published a list of towns whose mayors have signed a decree officially supplying polling premises for the October 1 vote. These mayors are being warned that helping to organize the referendum could entail charges of disobedience, which carries a fine; unlawful decision-making by a public official, which could get them barred from office; and embezzlement of public funds, which is punishable with up to eight years in prison.

The CUP's Without Fear campaign.
The CUP's Without Fear campaign.

But CUP, a small far-left party whose parliamentary support is pivotal to Puigdemont’s Junts pel Sí coalition, has already announced that its mayors will disobey orders to appear before prosecutors. The anti-capitalist, anti-EU group is telling other political parties to stand up against legal action “whose only purpose is to strike fear into the population and into elected officials.”

Meanwhile, a Catalan association of legal experts called Drets (Rights) says it has around 100 “volunteer lawyers” willing to defend anyone who is brought before the law for helping organize the referendum.

Drets has also published a set of instructions for citizens “who are summoned by the police to provide statements as witnesses, as the targets of an investigation or after being arrested.” Further guidance is extended to companies “that could be the victim of police searches.” Last week, the Civil Guard searched a newspaper office in Constantí (Tarragona) suspected of having printed referendum ballots.

“Bad Catalan”

Terrassa mayor Jordi Ballast (second from right).
Terrassa mayor Jordi Ballast (second from right).

While collaborating mayors are facing legal pressure, those who refuse to take part in the referendum are dealing with social harassment from secessionists.

“I’ve been told that I’m a sold-out politician, a coward, a wimp and a traitor... that I’m Socialist shit... I’ve been told to leave Terrassa, that I’m never going to wake up again, that I’m a bad Catalan, an imbecile, unworthy of my post, a piece of shit and a fucking fag,” revealed Jordi Ballart, the Socialist mayor of Terrassa, via a post on Facebook.

The pressure is such that one mayor walked up to Puigdemont on Monday, at an event to observe the Diada or Catalan National Day, and told him to “leave the mayors alone.”

“What I said is what a lot of people think,” said Nuria Marín, the mayor of L’Hospitalet. “I’m not in that situation, but a lot of my colleagues are going through a tough time. Targeting mayors does not help solve anything, it just adds fuel to the fire.”

Last Friday, Puigdemont encouraged citizens to confront mayors who refuse to help hold the referendum.

English version by Susana Urra.

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