Spain's state prosecutor orders probe into 700+ Catalan mayors for cooperating with referendum
Spain's state prosecutor has ordered a criminal investigation of 712 Catalan mayors for cooperating with an independence referendum planned for next month, which is not recognized by the country's central government.
The prosecutor's office has ordered the investigations, as well as the arrest of any mayors who do not comply, AP reported.
“When one citizen has a problem with justice, that’s just one citizen with a problem. But when 712 mayors have a problem with justice, it’s justice that has a problem. In this case, it’s Spanish justice,” Miquel Buch, a mayor and head of Catalan Municipalities Association, said.
“This is a great surprise,” Neus Looveras of the Association of Municipalities for Independence, noted. “This has never happened before. More than 700 mayors are united. Our unanimous position is to act together. Our priority is to work to guarantee the referendum,” she added.
“This is about freedom, this is about democracy, this is about our right to decide,” Jordi Sole, the mayor of Caldes de Montbui, told RT.
“I firmly believe in democracy, that’s why I want to defend democratic rights of our people, and if I have to explain this to the provincial prosecutor, I won’t have any problem doing it. In the end, everyone will realize that what we need is common sense, what we need is stability, what we need is to try to calm things down by respecting the free will of the people,” he said.
Police were ordered on Tuesday to seize ballot boxes, along with election flyers or any item that could be used in the banned referendum, AFP reported.
They were also told to take action against authorities, civil servants or individuals "to avoid offenses being committed," prosecutors said in a Tuesday statement.
It comes just two days after as many as a million people gathered in Barcelona in support of the October 1 independence referendum, which has been deemed illegal by Madrid.
The referendum has also been denounced by the Spanish judiciary, which says it is a violation of Spain's constitution.
Despite pressure from Madrid, the head of Catalonia's regional government, Carles Puigdemont, told journalists on Monday that "It is not an option that the referendum won't go ahead. It is 20 days away and we've already overcome many hurdles."
Many supporting the referendum argue that full sovereignty for Catalonia will benefit the region, especially amid the high unemployment rate and austerity measures that followed Spain's economic crisis, Jonathan Shafi, chairman of Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), told RT earlier this week.
“The root cause is the economic crisis of 2008. It is the austerity measures we have seen take place. What is happening is that people are looking to have more control over their lives; they are looking for much more in terms of a say in how their lives are run," he said.
Catalonia has long sought independence from the rest of Spain. A previous referendum in 2014, also deemed illegal by Madrid, saw 80 percent of voters casting their ballots for a split.