Spain’s foreign minister has moved to downplay the violence that has marred Catalonia’s unofficial independence vote, claiming the full extent of the crackdown is unclear since there are “fake photos” circulating on social media.
Alfonso Dastis appeared on Sky News as hundreds of people were injured in Catalonia as violent policing drew worldwide condemnation.
The Spanish Government’s heavy-handed attempt to stop the banned referendum going ahead included police firing rubber bullets to disperse crowds, dragging peaceful protestors from the ground and smashing glass to access polling booths and seize ballot boxes.
Shocking images and film was shared widely on social media.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has led the UK condemnation of the police crackdown, labelling the action “shocking”.
But Madrid has pushed back, it’s main line being the police response has been “proportionate”.
When Barcelona-based Sky News reporter Mark White detailled the scenes of violence he had seen first hand, Dastis said he had “not seen the violence you seem to have seen”. He said:
“I’ve heard what you’ve been saying, I personally don’t agree with you that this is extraordinary level of violence, and you may think that people were peacefully exercising their right to vote, but the premise is that this so-called vote, so-called referendum, had been held illegally and unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. So, the police, what they have done is to try and discharge the people to uphold the law.”
White pressed him again, relaying how “with my own eyes” he had seen police “pulling people physically out of polling stations, one video showed a police officer pulling someone’s hair ... stamping on voters”.
“Surely this is utterly unacceptable in the 21st century European Union?,” he added to a round of applause from people gathered close to where he was broadcasting.
Dastis said he was “not sure that I have seen the same pictures that you see”, and that the police has “tried to be proportionate”.
Later in the interview the issue arose again when Sky News played footage captured earlier in the day of police charging at protesters, pushing them away from ballots and some protesters lying on the ground.
Dastis said that some of the images of protests he saw online had dated back to 2012 and wanted to wait for “pieces of information that are not disputable”, pointing to what “defenders of the so-called referendum are putting out on social networks”.
Dastis:“I’m sure you have seen what you have seen, but I have seen fake photos that date back to 2012. So, I think we have got to be patient, and look at the situation, and really work out a way to find an appropriate solution within the law, and in our cause is usual for the future.”
White:“You talk about fake news. Think it is pretty hard to fake things that actually happen in front of you. So, there may well be fake photos on the internet, I don’t know about that, but clearly what we saw today was unfolding in front of us.”