Case 01

Roger Español

Mr. Roger Español lost an eye on the 1st of October to a rubber bullet shot by the Spanish police against peaceful voters in Barcelona, where rubber bullets are illegal


On the 1st of October 2017, Mr. Español, as many other citizens, was peacefully defending the polling station at School Ramon Llull of Barcelona. In a short movie recorded by Associació Iridia, along with Metromuster Productions, Mr. Español refers that on the day of the referendum, like many other citizens, he went to the School Ramon Llull to peacefully defend the ballot boxes from being stolen by the Spanish Police forces. The morning was quite rainy and so, as his clothes were soaked, he momentarily went home to put on something warmer. By the time he had returned to the school, the Spanish police had already forcefully taken the ballot boxes and were loading them into their vans. “Then it was when without any warning they started beating people up with their batons. That was when everything started”. During the agents’ retreat, Mr. Español received the impact of a rubber bullet on his face. Rubber bullets are an example of anti-riot equipment and have been prohibited in Catalonia since 2014. Mr. Español indicated that he remembered falling to the floor in pain and that a group of journalists sheltered him in the entrance to a house while waiting for an ambulance.

Mr. Español has publicly stated that he would like to be “the last person wounded by a rubber bullet in the Spanish State”.

He also stated that: “I would vote again and I would defend the school again.” 


On 20th September two cruisers hosting an unknown number of Spanish police agents (it is supposed that there were between 4000 and 6000; the exact number has been kept secret) reached the Port of Barcelona. The official reason for which the agents were deployed was to prevent the celebration of any referendum. The police forces seized control of the port and the Dock Workers organization complained about the militarization of their working space.

From the 26th to the 29th September 2017, in several Spanish cities (Córdoba, Toledo, Cadiz, and from the Spanish police headquarters in Castelló …) crowd gatherings took place as police vans were leaving to Catalonia to prevent the celebration of the referendum. People cheer the law enforcement agents with chants of “¡a por ellos!” (“let’s go get them!”).

An ongoing Spanish media campaign presenting a de-humanized image of pro-independence Catalans intensified its tone prior to the celebration of the referendum.

Violent public threats by public Spanish politicians to Catalan elected representatives, such as the ones uttered by Mr. Pablo Casado (former Vice-Secretary of Communication of the Partido Popular on 9-10-2017): “Let history not repeat itself. We hope that independence is not declared tomorrow, because maybe the one to declare it would end up like the one who declared it eighty-three years ago.” (a threat to current Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, now in exile, in reference to former president of the Generalitat de Catalunya, the government of Catalonia, Lluís Companys i Jover who was arrested by the Gestapo and sent back to Francoist Spain from exile, after declaring the Catalan Republic in 1934. Companys was assassinated by Franco’s regime in 1940).

Press conference of Spanish police syndicates the day before the Referendum took place reassuring that there was not going to be any violence on the next day. On the day of the Referendum, international non-official observers and Catalan police communications attested to the peaceful start of a self-determination referendum, until the aggressive intervention of Spanish police forces.

The outcome

Mr. Español lost an eye (amidst 1066 other people injured who were treated at primary health facilities between October 1st and October 4th, as indicated by a detailed report from the “Catsalut” Catalan health care service deriving from the Catalan Government’s Health Department).

On the 3rd of October, after a massive peaceful strike and protest gatherings against state violence and civil rights’ violations in Catalonia, the Spanish monarch ignored the wounded by police charges and justified violence against a part of the Catalan society in a TV speech.

A smearing campaign against the wounded and all the victims of police violence during the referendum was started by Spanish state’s officials, such as the Minister of Foreign affairs Alfonso Dastis. Such “fake news” accusations prompted a public statement by the Professional Medical Association of Catalonia. This campaign was exacerbated by the Spanish Minister of Justice, who mocked the personal stories of some of the wounded during the 1st October, and backed up the conservative Spanish media campaign.

He was hospitalized for days. It took him months to recover, and a great effort to return to his previous life afterwhat happened on October 1st. “It was completely worth it,” he told ACN regarding the actions that took place at a Barcelona polling station, as citizens tried to prevent Spanish police from taking away ballot boxes and thereby put a halt to the vote.

Español is being investigated by a judge for having allegedly thrown a fence at agents.

 His summoning has caused outrage on social media, as Español was seen as the face of the result of the police violence that took place on that day.

 There are also 13 more Spanish police officers involved in the investigation in relation to their conduct during the vote, specifically at a Barcelona school used as a polling station.  Videos show aggressive behaviour on the part of the police against people trying to cast their ballot. Civil lawsuits were filed against them.

In addition, five other police officers are being investigated. They are seen on camera punching and kicking voters as they forcibly remove them from a stairwell, with one woman dragged roughly down the stairs.

An ongoing judicial enquiry into locating the agent who fired the shot at Mr. Español was filed on November 14th against two higher-ranking officers belonging to the National Spanish Police anti-riot unit (who have already been identified) and against the author of the shot, who is not fully identified as yet on the grounds of injuries. Human rights organizations and the Barcelona City Council will also act as popular prosecution.

One month after the injury, Mr. Español was still under medication and he had to undergo certain changes to be able to return to working life. After the 1st of October, the injured organized themselves into an association in order to denounce the vulneration of their civic rights. This association even visited the European Parliament to ask the European Commission to take action against the violence of the Spanish State.

As the search for the officer who shot the bullet that impacted Mr. Español’s was progressing and Spanish Police officers were being summonsed to appear before the court to clarify the matter, their defence attorney (Mr. Antonio Suárez-Valdés) questioned that Mr. Español’s injury was due to the agents’ actions in a statement to the media while exiting the court. Such statement clearly contradicts with footage recorded during the rubber bullet shooting of October 1st. As Mr Español’s lawyer, Ms Anaïs Franquesa, has stated: “inside of the court nobody has questioned in any moment that the wound inflicted to Roger Español could be due to anything else but a rubber bullet”. Mr. Español is under investigation for allegedly throwing a fence at the polige agents.

Finally, in June 2019 and after many investigations, Mr. Español’s lawyers announced that the agent who shot Mr. Español has been identified. 

The final veredict of the trial has not yet been released.

Violated laws

1. Different police forces operating in Catalonia (Catalan: “Mossos d’Esquadra” and Spanish: “Guardia Civil” and “Policía Nacional”) have different protocols in terms of types of anti-riot ammunition that could legally be used, but in no case could fire be opened below 15 meters of distance of a person (as images recorded show).

2. The only police force allowed to maintain law and order in Catalonia is the Catalan police: thus, when Spanish police forces shot rubber bullets they violated the already existing consensus against the use of rubber bullets in the Catalan society. The Catalan Parliament had already approved a resolution to ban such anti-riot equipment in 2014. That resolution applied only to the judiciary police operating in the Catalan territory of course; the “Mossos d’Esquadra”, but they were replaced by Spanish police forces during 1 October in their functions of judiciary police.

3. Threats to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly: the peaceful demonstration of citizens was hindered by the illegal shooting of rubber bullets by law enforcement agents.

4. Threats to freedom of political participation: the fact that anti-riot police charged and shot against citizens exercising their right to vote displays the will to restrict citizens’ basic rights. The excessive use of police force contrasts with the absence of political negotiations on that day and prior to it.

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