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UN experts are worried about the Catalan referendum online crackdown

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Catalonia is set to have an independence vote this coming Sunday and the Spanish authorities, who say the referendum is unconstitutional, are furious — to the extent that they arrested the Catalan junior economy minister, are trying to prosecute referendum officials, and have raided printing operations and newspaper offices in an attempt to make the poll impossible. The police are allegedly even confiscating parcel tape showing the Catalan flag.

The crackdown has also extended online in a major way. A couple weeks back, a court ordered the puntCat Foundation, which administers the region-specific top-level domain, to shut down referendum-related websites and monitor more than 112,000 .cat domains. The foundation pushed back, so military police raided the foundation’s offices and arrested IT chief Pep Masoliver on “sedition” charges — he was released after two and a half days’ detention.

The pro-independence Catalan National Assembly saw its domain seized without warning — an issue it solved by resurrecting its site with a .eu extension., the Catalan government’s official site for the poll, now bears a notice saying: “This domain name has been seized pursuant to a seizure warrant under the Judicial Authority and is under administration”, but the original site can now be found at

The duplication of the Catalan government’s site led police to bring in 14 people for questioning over their disobedience. Their lawyers, not unreasonably, have pointed out that they were never told duplicating websites could be a criminal act.

However, shaky legal accusations aren’t the only problem faced by those trying to keep referendum-related sites up and running. According to the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), Spanish internet service providers are now blocking access to

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