Protesters clash with Spanish policemen outside El Prat airport in Barcelona on October 14, 2019, as thousands of angry protesters took to the streets after Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to jail for sedition over the failed 2017 independence bid. Scores of journalists were injured covering the protests, which continued through October 20. (AFP/Pau Barrena)
Protesters clash with Spanish policemen outside El Prat airport in Barcelona on October 14, 2019, as thousands of angry protesters took to the streets after Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to jail for sedition over the failed 2017 independence bid. Scores of journalists were injured covering the protests, which continued through October 20. (AFP/Pau Barrena)

Journalists covering Catalonia demonstrations attacked, harassed by police, protesters

Berlin, October 23, 2019 — Authorities in the Spanish region of Catalonia should ensure the safety of reporters covering protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Protests began in Barcelona and surrounding areas on October 14, following the Spanish Supreme Court’s ruling sentencing nine Catalan independence leaders to lengthy prison terms on sedition charges, according to news reports; the protests continued through the weekend of October 19-20, according to news reports. According to local newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya, at least 77 people were injured in the protests, including 38 journalists.

“It is of vital importance that local authorities ensure the safety of journalists covering demonstrations in Catalonia so they can report freely,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna in New York. “Both the police and protesters should refrain from targeting or obstructing the work of the press, and authorities must investigate all reported attacks against journalists.”

On October 19, police briefly detained El País reporter Albert Garcia, who was wearing a bracelet identifying himself as a journalist, after he documented officers making an arrest, according to a report by his employer.

Journalists also reported multiple instances of attacks and harassment by police during the protests. Among the incidents, French reporter Elise Gazengel, working for CTXT magazine, on October 14 received blows from the local and national police on two different occasions although she identified herself as an accredited journalist by wearing a bracelet, according to the daily newspaper La Vanguardia. Reporter Jordi Mumbrú of daily newspaper ARA and photographer Albert Salamé from Vilaweb were also beaten by the police that day, despite also wearing bracelets identifying themselves as journalists. These incidents were also reported by online newspaper Eldiario.es.

On October 17, a police officer hit Pol Pareja, a reporter working for Eldiario.es, twice with a baton, the journalist told CPJ via email. Pareja said he had minor injuries from the attack but did not go to the hospital. He said he was wearing a press armband and identified himself as a journalist as the officer hit him. On October 18, a police officer hit Sergi Alcázar, a reporter for local news website ElNacional.cat, with a baton, according to a report by the outlet. In that report, Alcázar can be seen wearing a clearly identifiable press vest.

Journalists also reported multiple instances of attacks and harassment from protesters. Among those attacks, according to La Vanguardia, on October 14 a protester threw a stone that hit Eudald Martínez, a reporter for Radio Rac 1, injuring him in the head; he was treated by an ambulance. The reporter published a photo on Twitter showing a cut above his eye. Two TV crew members working for public service broadcaster TVE were attacked on October 18 by demonstrators, online newspaper 20minutos.es reported; a protester hit one crew member while others threw eggs.

CPJ emailed questions about the incidents to the communications department of the Catalonia police, but did not immediately receive a reply.