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Referendum websites blocked by Spain: Brussels won’t intervene but says restrictions must be proportionate

Catalonia denounced "digital repression" after more than a hundred sites were closed down to halt preparations for the independence vote

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16 October 2018 11:42 AM

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ACN | Brussels

The European Commission will not take measures against Spain for closing more than a hundred websites related to the independence referendum, something the Catalan government denounced as "digital repression."  

In response to a letter from the Catalan executive, the Commission's Director-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, Roberto Viola, cites European rules preventing internet service providers from blocking websites except when national legislation that complies with EU law allows it. This also includes court orders.

"Any such measure liable to restrict those fundamental rights or freedoms may only be imposed if they are appropriate, proportionate and necessary within a democratic society, and their implementation shall be subject to adequate procedural safeguards," reads Viola’s letter.  

The Commission notes that "a significant number of web pages" (32, according to their estimates) that were initially blocked are no longer closed.

  • "[Letter from the Catalan government] forced the European Commission to make a move and somehow opens the door to admitting that the closing of websites [...] was carried out in a disproportionate way"

    Jordi Puigneró · Catalan minister for digital policy and public administration

Viola also refers to the ref1oct.cat website, which is still blocked by a court order, and states that "the lawfulness of such orders is or has been subject to possible judicial remedies under national law."   

Catalonia’s minister for digital policy and public administration, Jordi Puigneró, says that the government’s initial complaint "forced the European Commission to make a move and somehow opens the door to admitting that the closing of websites, domains and apps by Spain was carried out in a disproportionate way."

In an attempt to thwart preparations for the October 1 referendum, deemed illegal by Spanish courts, the Guardia Civil police closed down several websites related to the vote, as well as those of organizations related to the independence movement. Most of them used the .cat domain.

After the Catalan government’s official informative websites were shut down, servers outside Spain began replicating them and creating online clones. Spain then ordered Internet providers, such as Movistar and Vodafone, to block access to all referendum websites.

Last week, Puigneró traveled to Brussels to take the EU Commission to the European Ombudsman for not responding to his first letter condemning Spain, which was sent a year ago.

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  • Catalonia's minister for digital policy and public administration, Jordi Puigneró (by ACN)

  • Catalonia's minister for digital policy and public administration, Jordi Puigneró (by ACN)