PROSECUTORS in Spain have ordered investigations into more than 700 Catalan mayors who have supported the planned independence referendum in the country’s wealthiest state on October 1.

A total of 712 civic heads out of 948 have supported the poll and local prosecutors’ offices will now have to decide if they can be called in for questioning.

However, if they are called to court and fail to appear, Catalan police will have to arrest them.

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The latest move in this increasingly bitter wrangle between Barcelona and the national government in Madrid came as Catalan MEPs urged the European Commission to investigate Spanish government moves to stop the referendum.

In a written question, they said the government’s actions amounted to an attack on “the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, information and assembly”.

The Spanish High Court in Catalonia has ordered Catalan Public Television (TVC) not to broadcast a government advertisement about the poll or “inform its audience about anything related to the organisation” of the referendum.

If the TV station fails to comply, its bosses could face criminal charges, which MEPs say amounts to censorship.

In their letter, the politicians cited articles 10 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), 11 (freedom of expression and information) and 12 (freedom of assembly and association) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as well as articles 19 (freedom of opinion and expression) and 20 (freedom of peaceful assembly) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

They also referred to the Spanish judiciary’s decision to forbid a public debate in Madrid this weekend on Catalonia’s right to decide. It followed a request by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ruling People’s Party.

One of the letter’s signatories, Greens/EFA MEP Josep-Maria Terricabras, brought up the issue during the European Parliament’s state of the union debate.

“As if it was a crime to hold a referendum, the Spanish government has taken the Catalan parliament president and other MPs to court, and threatened the Catalan government, more than 1000 public servants and the Catalan public media to prevent them from talking or acting in favour of the referendum,” said Terricabra.

He went on to describe the Spanish actions as “unacceptable attacks on freedom of opinion”.

The local authority in Madrid had approved a request from an organisation called “Madrid Residents for the Right to Decide”, to use a municipal site for Sunday’s event.

However, a local court ruled that the rally cannot be held in a city-owned site, because the vote had been suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

The organisers confirmed yesterday that the public debate will still go ahead on Sunday, but they will not use city premises.

They claim the referendum is a “basic democratic principle” and that they are standing up for the Catalans’ right to self-determination, which is, they said, a “legitimate aspiration”.