The Catalan Generalitat, the governing body’s website – promoting the referendum to eventually become independent from Spain – was blocked by a court order one day before the pro-separatist camp officially launches its referendum campaign.
The latest move comes only days after prosecutors ordered police in Catalonia to seize ballot boxes, election flyers as well as any item tied to the referendum. On September 6, Catalonia’s Parliament passed a bill enabling an independence referendum to be held at the beginning of next month, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.
Spain’s public prosecutor on Wednesday also ordered a criminal probe of some 700 Catalan mayors cooperating with the October 1 independence referendum, which is deemed illegal by Madrid, after the region’s pro-separatist government asked 948 mayors to provide facilities for polling stations.
The prosecutors’ office have warned that mayors participating as organisers in the vote next month, will be summoned to court as official suspects and if they refuse “their arrest will be ordered”, according to a copy of the ruling obtained by AFP.
“They can arrest us, they’re crazy!,” one pro-separatist mayor from L’Espluga de Francoli, a small town, told AFP, adding that Madrid had “proposed nothing” in repsonse to Catalonia’s demands for greater autonomy.
On the same day, officers of the Spanish Guardia Civil entered the office of CDMon company and delivered the court order. The company, responsible for the technical support of the website, quickly blocked the domain.
But Carles Puigdemont, the president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, soon tweeted an address for the new website of the Catalan independence referendum — www.ref1oct.cat. Puigdemont and members of his government already face charges of “civil disobedience, misfeasance and misappropriation of public funds” which could mean jail sentences of up to eight years.
The Spanish government says the bill is illegal and brought a case before the Constitutional Court. The very next day, Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended the Catalan law enabling the independence referendum.
In 2014, some 80 percent voted in a non-binding referendum in favor of Catalonia becoming an independent state. The independence vote was later ruled unconstitutional by Madrid.
Madrid has vowed to put an end to the referendum, saying that Spain’s 1978 constitution stipulated that regional governments do have the authority to call an independence referendum.
But Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, saw a massive outpouring of support for independence on Monday when Catalans marked their national day, the Diada, with marches and rallies.
One big banner at the rally carried the words: “Goodbye Spain”. While opinion polls show that Catalans are evenly divided on independence, over 70 percent have said that they want a referendum.
Voters from the wealthy region believe they pay more in taxes than they receive in investments and transfers from Madrid. Catalonia is roughly the size of Belgium and accounts for about one-fifth of Spain’s economic output.