This weekend’s nightmare scenes on the streets of Catalonia were a disaster for democracy in Spain. Spain’s foreign minister’s description of the police response as “professional and proportional” can only be described as delusional. The Catalonian referendum also highlighted severe censorship and freedom of speech concerns within the Iberian peninsula.
In the run-up to Sunday’s democratic referendum (in which 2.26 million Catalonians voted on their region’s independence from Spain), the Spanish government used its power to close down numerous websites. Websites that suffered blackouts included pro-referendum sites, sites that helped people to vote, and sites that advertised the locations of polling booths.
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The Catalonian administration has compared the Spanish government to those of Turkey and North Korea for its decision to block websites. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government (with the backing of Catalonia’s high court) contends that the vote had already been deemed illegal and that Spain was simply acting out of a desire to enforce the law. According to Rajoy, the people of Catalonia were “fooled” by their government into participating in an illegal referendum.
For Catalonian voters, who turned out in their millions, the actions of the Spanish government and police have been referred to as “another shameful page in its history with Catalonia.” Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has promised to make “a direct appeal to the European Union” in relation to the brutal police response that occurred on Sunday, when 844 people were injured.
In locations like Turkey, the Ukraine, Egypt, and Russia, website blackouts during times of political upheaval are common. Unfortunately for Catalonians, on this occasion Spain decided to take a leaf out of the oppressive regimes’ handbook. Sadly, this has become a frequent occurrence nowadays. The human right to freedom of speech and digital privacy is being eroded at epidemic levels within Western society.
Long gone are the days when the West would frown on regimes like China and North Korea for controlling the flow of information. Now, totalitarianism is becoming the norm. This weekend, the people of Catalonia got a strong taste of that medicine.
Google Blocks Apps
In another example of Spain’s government acting in an undemocratic manner, last week the Spanish government used Spain’s high court to put pressure on Google to take down an app intended to boost voter turnout.
The app came to the government’s attention following a Tweet from Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. At that time, he informed his followers that the app would aid them in the voting process and let them know where their closest polling station was.
Following the court order, Catalonian voters quickly flooded the app’s message board, decrying the move as unconstitutional. Sadly for them, Google complied in taking the app off the Play Store, leading many voters to hit social media with messages saying “shame on Google.”
A Slippery Slope
Despite the localization of this weekend’s tyranny, the rest of Spain needs to be incredibly wary of their government. Why? Because this type of institutionalized behavior is a slippery slope. On this occasion, the majority of Spain watched the frightening scenes from the comfort of their homes, but what about next time?
Talking about the Spanish government’s decision to restrict freedom of speech, Jim Killock from Open Rights Group told BestVPN.com that,
“Internet censorship is the default behavior of oppressive governments. Democracies should be governed by courts, not the executive.”
Killock told me that he believes people in neighboring nations should look at the situation in Spain closely, lest they allow themselves to end up in a similar position:
“Spain’s actions show where excessive and unaccountable powers can lead, and the UK should take note as our own government press for similar powers to remove content they deem illegal through administrative orders.”
More Determined than Before
This weekend’s brutal outburst seems to have strengthened Catalonia’s resolve in favor of gaining independence from Madrid. Before the referendum, around 40% of Catalonian citizens were pro-independence. Following the response from Spanish police, this number is believed to have vastly increased.
Despite the efforts of the Spanish police and government, Sunday’s “illegal” vote still went ahead. A 90% majority of those who turned out voted in favor of independence. For this reason, Puigdemont announced that Catalonia had “earned the right to have an independent state.” In the televised address, he said that in the coming days he would “send the results of today’s vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies.”
What this means for Catalonia going forward is hard to say. However, there can be no doubt that Spain does not want to let go of its wealthiest region. Despite accounting for just 16% of Spain’s population, Catalonia generates one-fifth of the country’s total GDP. This leaves Catalonia with the very real prospect of completely losing its autonomy from Madrid, a move which could push Spain to the brink of civil war.
Opinions are the writer’s own.
Title image credit: Riderfoot/Shutterstock.com
Image credits: dolphfyn/Shutterstock.com, Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock.com