Spanish police used excessive force in Catalan referendum: HRW

London, Oct 12: A human rights monitor on Thursday said an investigation into the actions of Spanish police to impede voting in Catalonia's recent independence referendum showed that they had engaged in excessive force while confronting demonstrators.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that it had carried out on-site investigations to document specific incidents after receiving several allegations of unjustified police force during the October 1 poll, which was deemed illegal by the Spanish government and judiciary, Efe news reported.

"Our detailed investigation into three cases found that national police and Civil Guard officers used excessive force on October 1 in Catalonia," said HRW's Western Europe Researcher, Kartik Raj.

"The police may well have had the law on their side to enforce a court order but it didn't give them the right to use violence against peaceful protesters," Raj added.

The controversial vote had been declared unconstitutional by Spain's constitutional court.

Nevertheless, the referendum took place across the region, with Spanish police agents -- along with members of Catalonia's police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra -- seeking to enforce the court order banning the vote by closing down polling stations, seizing ballot boxes and removing protestors who attempted to block the law enforcement officers.

The ensuing confrontations left 893 people injured, according to estimates by Catalonia's health department.

The Spanish Interior Ministry said that 19 national police officers and 14 members of the Civil Guard (a semi-military force tasked with police duties) had required urgent medical assistance.

About 10,000 police officers were sent from across the country to Catalonia on October 1.

HRW said it had documented excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators by national police at a primary school in Girona being used as a polling station, and in the hillside villages of Aiguaviva (Girona province) and Fonollosa (Barcelona province).

Meanwhile, the Spanish government had claimed that all police actions were "prudent, appropriate and proportionate to the objective of ensuring compliance with the law and the rights of all citizens" and denied that they were directed against citizens or their ideas.

HRW, contradicting the version, said that the government's delegate in Catalonia, Enric Millo -- responsible for all security operations in the region -- had "expressed regret and apologised" on October 6 for some of the police's interventions in a television interview.

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