In Spain, the government does not allow the independence of Spanish regions if they do not follow the Spanish constitution. In the Catalan region of Spanish, the autonomous region of Catalonia attempted to bypass the constitution by instituting a referendum that would make it so the majority could force the independence of the region without needing the approval of all parties involved.
In essence, voting could simply continue as long as the majority was present. The referendum law was rushed through its own parliament, despite warnings from Spain’s deputy prime minister in early September that they would strike it down. The referendum took place yesterday, on October 1st.
Before Sunday, in the week leading up to the referendum, an internet war started with police involvement heating up the controversy and political climate. Hundreds of websites were taken down and suspended by Spanish authorities in an attempt to block information about the referendum.
On September 29th, Julian Assange, a publisher over at Wikileaks, summed up the events on Twitter. “The world’s first internet war has begun, in Catalonia, as the people and government use it to organize an independence referendum on Sunday and Spanish intelligence attacks, freezing telecommunications links, occupying telecoms buildings, censors 100s of sites, protocols etc.”
The official referendum was only one website that was blocked. The offices of the .cat domain registry was raided causing over 100,000 active domains on the internet to be taken down. Shortly after, Google blocked a huge app that allows users to check on the results of polling stations and the following day, police entered the Catalan government’s Telecommunications and IT Center in an attempt to censor more content.
However, Catalan authorities weren’t deterred by the invasive internet attacks. They advised users to use proxies and VPNs to get around restrictions. Even Peter Sunde, the founder of The Pirate Bay, offered assistance to the Catalan people, explaining on Twitter that “If you’re running a Catalan site being shut down by Spanish authorities, contact me for anonymous hosting and domains. We’ve got you covered.” Additionally, users in Spain can still use TorGuard to access websites that are blocked due to connections with the referendum.
Now, on October 2nd, it seems that the people of Catalonia have almost unanimously voted for independence. Poll results are coming in around 90% in favor of independence. However, due to violent police intervention who were shooting pollers with rubber bullets, turnout was only estimated at 43% of the 5.3 million eligible voters.
Over 400 polling stations were closed by a result of the police crackdown, and Catalan President Carles Puigdemont called the police crackdown the worst crisis since the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Puigdemont is hesitant to declare the independence of Catalonia from Spain, despite the 90% results since he fears it could make things worse, hoping the European Union can provide aid. “This moment needs mediation,” he said. “We only received violence and repression as an answer.”
The mass amounts of violence and chaos is drawing the attention of the United Nations with the the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, calling for “independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence”.
“Police responses must at all times be proportionate and necessary,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein . “I firmly believe that the current situation should be resolved through political dialogue, with full respect for democratic freedoms.”
However, the situation is still not resolved, with impending strikes, mass demonstrations and more planned by Trade unions on Tuesday and likely the rest of the first week of October.