Case 03

Marta Torrecillas

A polling supervisor was physically injured and fondled by Spanish law-enforcing officers during the 1st of October referendum


Ms. Marta Torrecillas was physically injured and fondled by Spanish “Policia nacional” (National Police) officers on October 1st, when she was at the polling station based in the school Pau Claris in Barcelona. She was collaborating with the Government of Catalonia, the authority that convened the referendum. The National Police officers who went to that polling station used excessive force against the citizens who were there simply to vote, to collaborate with the organisation, or to perform their functions as polling supervisors.

Ms. Torrecillas has repeteadly stated in many interviews that the National Police officers used physical violence against the people who were at the polling station and also caused severe property damage in the school. She emphasized the contrast between the behaviour of those who were there wishing to exercise democracy, and those who were there to prevent the Referendum from taking place in order to defend “the rule of law”: “It has to be seen what their democracy is like. Ours, was totally peaceful”.

On October 1st 2017, Ms. Marta Torrecillas, together with many other citizens, was at the polling station located in the School Pau Claris, in Barcelona. They were there in order to collaborate with the organisation on behalf of the Government of Catalonia (as Ms. Torrecillas was) or to defend the polling station by peaceful means. The media published several videos revealing that National Police officers showed up at the school and engaged in violent actions against the people who were there, clearly using excessive force.

Particularly in the case of Ms. Marta Torrecillas, there is recorded evidence of both the action that “Policía nacional” officers conducted against her on the 1st of October and of the statements she made to the media right after the police forces’ actions at the polling station she was at. In these statements she described the use of force and the fondling she suffered by those officers, as a “degrading treatment”.

It must be specified that, in her first statements, Ms. Torrecillas maintained that she had the fingers of one hand broken one by one, due to the actions inflicted on her by the National Police officers, as she thought such was the case. However, it was later confirmed that the injuries they caused her weren’t fractures but dislocations, as she publicly stated after medical examination.


On 20 September 2017 two cruise ships docked at the port of Barcelona, with an indefinite number of National Police and Civil Guard officers onboard. Estimations say that there were between 4000 and 6000 officers, but the exact number has been kept secret. The “official” reason for the deployment of the State security forces was to prevent any referendum from taking place. Police forces took control of the port, causing the complaint of the Barcelona Dockworkers Organisation, who denounced the militarization of their workplace.

Between 26 and 29 September 2017, citizens from different Spanish cities (Córdoba, Toledo, Cadiz, Huelva and from the Headquarters of the “Guardia Civil” in Castelló) bade farewell to the vehicles transporting more law enforcement officers (mostly anti-riot police) to Barcelona in order to prevent the referendum. People jeered them, calling out: “¡a por ellos!”, meaning, “go get them!”.

The campaign being launched by the Spanish media, which was portraying a dehumanized image of pro-independence Catalans, intensified its tone before the referendum. On 10th October 2017, a few days after Catalonia’s independence Referendum, the Secretary of State for Communication, Mrs. Carmen Martínez Castro, thanked the journalists on behalf of the Government for their role in the Catalan crisis. In a conference organized by two foundations, she stated that “the media is doing an extraordinary job”.

Spanish politicians launched publicly violent threats to Catalan elected representatives. An example of these threats is the one made by Pablo Casado, the former Comunication Under Secretary of the Popular Party, on 9-10-2017: “Don’t let history repeat itself. Let us hope tomorrow nothing is declared because maybe the one who declares it will end up like the one who declared it 83 years ago” (a threat to Carles Puigdemont, the then President of Catalonia who is now in exile. This threat refers to the former President of Catalonia Lluís Companys Jover, arrested in exile by the Gestapo and returned to Francoist Spain after declaring the Catalan Republic in 1934. Companys was assassinated by Franco’s regime in 1940).

The day before the Referendum, Spanish Police syndicates gave a press conference ensuring there would be no violence the next day. Upon the day of the referendum, official and non-official international observers and the Catalan police communications confirmed that the referendum on self-determination began in a pacifistic way and that the violence started with the aggressive intervention of the Spanish police forces. 

The outcome

Ms. Torrecillas suffered a dislocation on one hand when she was violently evicted from the school Pau Claris in Barcelona on October 1st. She also declared that she had suffered breast fondling.

On 3rd October the Spanish monarch ignored those injured by police ill-treatment and justified the violence against a part of the Catalan society. He did it in a televised speech at the end of that day, when Catalonia had been on an all-time high strike and on protest meetings. Even people wearing Spanish flags protested in Barcelona, accompanied by people advocating independence, against state-sponsored violence and the violations of civil rights.

Some Spanish authorities, such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Alfonso Dastis, started a campaign to discredit the injured people and all the victims of police brutality during the referendum. These allegations of fake news led to a public statement made by the Council of Catalan Medical Colleges (13-10-2017). The Spanish Minister of Justice joined that campaign, making fun of the personal issues of some of those injured during the events of October 1st. The most conservative Spanish media supported the campaign.

Ms. Torrecillas filed a complaint for injuries and actions that were against moral integrity, aggrovated by hate and with motivations of an ideological and gendered nature. This complaint was given permission to proceed by Barcelona Investigating Court No. 7 on February 2018.

Moreover, because of Ms. Torrecillas denunication of her situation, the Spanish tabloid media began leaking details of her private life, which led to her receiving thousands of threats. She received more than 7,000 messages and 900 calls and, even though she changed her number, she continues to receive threats of murder and rape.

Finally, the 27th Disctrict Court of Barcelona held four Spanish police officers on trial, accused of threatening and harassing Ms. Torrecillas via text messages with francoist content. They are accused of hate crime and offences.


Violated laws

The Spanish law enforcement officers’ performance against Ms. Torrecillas, causing her physical injury and treating her in a degrading way, violates the fundamental right to life and to physical and moral integrity, a statutory right included in the Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution. Fundamental rights cannot yield to the enforcement of a court order, even less in this case, where the court order to prevent the referendum submitted to the “maintenance of the social harmony”.

Consecutively, these same facts also violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 3 and 5), the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 2 and 3) and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (Articles 1, 3 and 4).

Threats to the freedom of political participation: the fact that the riot police had used violence against people exercising their right to vote shows the aim to restrain the fundamental rights of the citizens. The disproportionate use of force contrasts with the absence of political negotiations on the 1 October and the days before. Violation of the Article 23.1 of the Spanish Constitution and the Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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