Armed police in Spain are on the hunt for voting papers, ballot boxes and leaflets to be used in Catalonia's October 1 independence referendum, raiding print works and newspaper offices in the region in what many referendum supporters point out is ongoing state-sponsored repression by Madrid.
Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia's president, is facing thinly-veiled charges of civil disobedience and tax evasion from Madrid for his part in planning the referendum. Although some 6,000 ballots boxes have been reported to be prepared, their locations remain unpublished.
"Right now, we have no idea where they are," claimed Toni Castejon, a spokesman for the Catalan police force union, which supports the referendum.
Madrid's government strongly opposes the Catalan secession vote, declaring the move unconstitutional, and fearful that a vote for Catalan independence will spur a political and financial crisis in the country.
On Friday, Madrid passed measures to increase control over Catalonian spending, in efforts to prevent the breakaway state from using its own government funds to finance the independence ballot. Earlier last week, Madrid questioned over 700 Catalan mayors over their support for the referendum, Reuters reported.
According to the Guardian, Madrid's has warned Catalan leaders that they could be withheld from office or face jail time for supporting the independence referendum.
Many local authority buildings to be used as polling stations could risk legal action as well. Madrid has gone so far as to threaten to cut off electricity to schools that act as polling stations. Individuals who print or distribute ballot papers could also face prosecution.
"They've lost the plot," observed Albert Batet, mayor of the town of Valls, regarding the full-court press of the Spanish government in Madrid to suppress the popular will of Catalan residents.
"They are persecuting mayors, the press, printers. They are stretching the limits of democracy," he added.
On Friday, police confiscated an estimated 100,000 of what was claimed to be campaign leaflets, although the government did not reveal the whereabouts of the raid, or detail what, specifically, was confiscated, according to the Interior Ministry.
In addition, Catalonia's top court issued warnings to seven newspapers to not publish campaign notices for the referendum. Postal workers in the region have been told to not distribute election materials.
Last Saturday, six armed police officers searched the offices of Catalan newspaper El Vallenc in Valls for five and a half hours, while a crowd gathered outside the building as people sang the Catalan anthem and chanted, ‘Where are the ballot papers?'
The offices for the website of the Catalan independence referendum were shut down by the Spanish Civil Guard on Wednesday. However, within 24 hours, Puigdemont had a new link to the website on his Twitter account.
Publisher Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who supports Catalonia's referendum, is allegedly assisting with hosting and managing the website.