Some independence protests were 'violent,' says former Spanish delegate in Catalonia

Enric Millo tells Supreme Court there were many actions of "harassment, intimidation and violence" in autumn 2017

The former Spanish government delegate in Catalonia Enric Millo, testifying in Spain's Supreme Court on March 5, 2019
The former Spanish government delegate in Catalonia Enric Millo, testifying in Spain's Supreme Court on March 5, 2019 / ACN

ACN | Madrid

March 5, 2019 03:01 PM

Some pro-independence protests were peaceful, but "others were violent, with harassment, and objects thrown," Enric Millo, the Spanish government delegate in Catalonia during the 2017 political crisis, told the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning.

According to Millo, the pro-independence camp encouraged protests that led to "dozens of actions of harassment, intimidation and violence" from September to mid-November, soon after direct rule was imposed on Catalonia.

Appearing as a witness in the trial of Catalan independence leaders in Madrid, the former delegate also said that police officers following court orders were harassed by pro-independence supporters.

"Wherever the judicial police acted, there was a group of people harassing, shouting, pestering, threatening them, and in some cases there were attacks on vehicles and people to impede the judicial work," he said.

Violence key element in trial

The issue of whether violence was part of the independence bid in 2017 is crucial to the trial, as many of the defendants are accused of rebellion, a charge that requires the use of violence, and an accusation they all deny.

"They used to say the demonstrations were festive events, but the calls [by the pro-independence camp] were to defend the institutions, which means they assumed they were being attacked," said Millo, who added: "We could all see the damage to police cars on September 20, 2017."

Later, defense lawyer Xavier Melero asked him: "Does the fact that there were no arrests on September 20 match with the violent climate you’ve described?"

Enric Millo then responded: "We should ask Catalan police officers who were present that day." Millo also added that in that police force, "the political narrative prevailed to the professional one" during the independence bid. 

October 1 referendum

As for the referendum on October 1, 2017, Millo says that in early September he "sent letters to all Catalan mayors, school heads, and social and economic entities reminding them of their obligation to impede the vote."

Millo also confirmed that "the court ordered that if there were any public centers on October 1 operating as polling stations, they had to be raided, electoral material had to be confiscated, and the centers had to be evacuated and closed down."

"I made a statement on referendum day shortly after 9am, informing the public that there was a judicial order obliging police to enter centers, confiscate electoral material, and leave," added Millo.

Police actions on referendum day

The conduct of Spanish police drafted into Catalonia to stop the vote is also a key issue in the trial, as hardline tactics used by riot officers left hundreds of people injured.

After the operation to stop the vote, Millo apologized for the conduct of the police, but held the Catalan government responsible for going ahead with a vote on independence that had been declared illegal by the Spanish courts.

Asked about his apology, Millo told the court: "I said the only person responsible for the police violence was [then president Carles ] Puigdemont. And on behalf of him, I apologized."

Referring to the events on October 1, the former Spanish delegate said that at noon he issued another statement "asking the Catalan president to call off the referendum to avoid greater chaos."

However, Millo explained that "at 1pm, Puigdemont in a statement didn't call off the vote, but welcomed people defending ballot boxes and schools, as if they were being attacked." "I found these remarks irresponsible," he added.

Communication with home affairs minister

Millo also told the court that on the day of the vote, the then-home affairs minister, Joaquim Forn, who is also on trial, called him to stop the police operation. "There's a very easy way to stop it: calling it off," Millo said he told him.

After the referendum, the result of which was in favor of a Catalan republic, the Parliament went on to issue a resolution declaring Catalonia's independence, on October 27, after which direct rule was imposed.

Some defendants have played down the significance of the declaration and asked on Tuesday whether he saw the declaration as 'symbolic,' Millo replied: "No one in Catalonia thought [so]. At that time, no one thought it was a joke."

A defense lawyer subsequently asked Millo, if, on October 27, "when the supposed declaration of independence occurred," if he had been "officially informed of it." Millo, in turn, said: "No, I guess I was not relevant anymore in the supposed 'new state.'" 

Spotlight on police

The testimony of the former delegate comes in week 4 of the Catalan trial, when the efforts by the Spanish police to stop the referendum are set to be in the spotlight, after Rajoy and his ministers denied any role in the operation.

Millo was meant to have spoken in court on Monday morning, but the session was delayed by the long testimony of the former Spanish secretary of state for securityJosé Antonio Nieto. He claimed that the force used by the Spanish police on October 1 “was the minimum required," and accused the Catalan police of not doing enough to follow court orders and stop the vote.