‘The violence is out of hand’ - political leaders react to renewed riots

Catalan police union criticize inaction of politicians and question calls to review the public order model

Catalan interior minister Miquel Sàmper, photographed in Barcelona in February 2021 (by Blanca Blay)
Catalan interior minister Miquel Sàmper, photographed in Barcelona in February 2021 (by Blanca Blay) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

February 28, 2021 12:37 PM

Leaders from across the political spectrum have condemned the renewed riots seen in Barcelona on Saturday night, describing the violence as “out of hand.”

Over a thousand people gathered on Saturday night to demand the immediate release of jailed rapper Pablo Hasel, a “total amnesty”, and self-determination. 

Under the calling of "Without a future, we have nothing to lose," Saturday's gathering was backed by various social entities and political groups, such as CUP, Endavant, Arran, trade unions, and the CDR protest group.

Protesters also showed up to call for the repeal of Spain's controversial 'gag law', as well as labour reform, the regulation of the rent prices, and to voice anger against evictions.

The protest ended in unrest and turmoil once again, as was seen in nightly disturbances in the immediate aftermath of Hasel’s arrest on February 16, with attacks on bank offices, police vehicles, and city centre stores and businesses. At least 14 people were arrested, while five were treated for mild injuries. 

Catalan interior minister Miquel Sàmper described the violence as getting “out of hand.” During one incident on Saturday night, a police van was set on fire with one agent inside, and to Sàmper, this exemplifies that “attacking people is a possibility in this violence” and as such, the dissolution of Catalonia’s anti-riot police brigade, one of the things the protesters have also been calling for, is “non-negotiable.”

Despite this, the JxCat minister says the public order model is “reviewable.” During the riots and unrest, the manner in which law enforcement maintains public order has become one of the primary debates.

Police union criticism

Meanwhile, the SICME union, representative of more than 90% of Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra officers, lashed back at the notion of reforming the public order model. “Deputies, the change begins by trying to kill police officers by burning us?" the union ironically questioned. 

The group also criticized that "politicians are looking for their seats, the self-employed, restaurateurs and multiple businesses are broken and stolen, and the police in the spotlight. Shame!"

Far-left CUP denounces 'criminalization' of protests

CUP leader Dolors Sabater stated that "putting lives at risk is a limit, whoever does it," in relation to the burned police van. However, the head of the far-left pro-independence group avoided explicitly condemning the riots. "We only see the criminalization of the protest and that is useless," she said.

"Condemnations of violence are not enough to solve the very serious problems caused by this violence. It is a hypocritical simplification that only reassures some consciences," Sabater said.

Damages to businesses

Catalonia’s interim president and ERC leader Pere Aragonès put the focus on damage done to businesses. "The looting of shops, the burning of furniture or the attack on public workers are neither freedom of expression nor protest," he said via Twitter. 

Aragonés recalled that he will "always" stand by the exercise of rights and freedoms "peacefully", and "never" by acts of "vandalism or violence."

The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, also added her voice to the objection against the riots. "My strongest condemnation of today's violent events in Barcelona after a peaceful demonstration," Colau said. 

The mayor has shown her support for the Guàrdia Urbana local police and, in particular, the agents of the Rambla police station, which was the target of an attack by some twenty protesters. 

Colau also gave her support to the "neighbours and traders affected by the riots." “The right to protest is totally legitimate, violence and vandalism, no,” she concluded.

Spanish president Pedro Sánchez described the events as "unacceptable", also showing his support for the police forces. The Socialist candidate for the presidency of Catalonia, Salvador Illa, expressed the same opinion, condemning "without nuances" the acts of "free and unjustified" violence in the streets of Barcelona and in other Catalan cities.

Police detect "organized" violent groups 

The Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra police detected between 250-300 people with a violent attitude during Saturday's riots. According to police sources, they acted in groups of between 15-20 and did so alongside the bulk of the demonstration that has passed through the city centre with a peaceful attitude.

The same sources indicate that some of these groups "were organized" and made fireworks, used gasoline to set fire to the interior of banks and fired flares with gasoline or a similar product.

According to the Catalan police, various groups vandalized and looted shops and set up barricades, as happened on other nights of the recent unrest. At the same time, they have also detected groups of people who did not attack the police but formed barricades with the aim of hindering police action.

Who is Pablo Hasel?

Pablo Rivadulla Duró, or Pablo Hasel as he is more commonly known, is a rapper from the Catalan city of Lleida who was arrested on February 16 to serve time behind bars after being found guilty of glorifying terrorism and slander against the monarchy in his songs and tweets.

How long Hasel will end up spending in prison is not yet clear as he has other ongoing legal issues, but he has been sentenced to two years and nine months for the two separate cases for which he is currently in jail.

The rapper's imprisonment has reignited the debate on freedom of expression in Spain and its so-called 'gag law' as many of Hasel's sympathizers argue it is not enforced fairly.