Catalan leaders compare Spain to North Korea after referendum sites blocked | World news

The Catalan regional government has accused the Spanish authorities of behaving like Turkey, China and North Korea by blocking websites designed to help people vote in Sunday’s independence referendum.

Over the past week the Spanish government has stepped up its efforts to stop the unilateral vote by deploying thousands of extra police officers to Catalonia and taking control of the region’s finances.

It insists the referendum is illegal and a clear violation of the Spanish constitution.

The Catalan high court has assumed control of efforts to prevent the vote, instructing local and national police officers to stop public buildings being used as polling stations and to seize any material related to the referendum.

On Wednesday evening, Judge Mercedes Armas said the court would take over from the regional prosecutor, adding that recent events had shown that Catalonia’s pro-independence government had “clearly breached” the constitutional court rulings prohibiting this Sunday’s vote.

Armas said the Catalan regional government’s repeated attempts to circumvent a ban on using websites to promote and facilitate the referendum had “consistently shown that the poll will go ahead”.

The judicial intervention came hours after Catalonia’s regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, expressed reservations over being tasked with shutting down polling stations, warning of the risk of “a disruption of public order”.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, the force said it had told the regional prosecutor that following orders to stop the vote would not lessen officers’ “professional responsibility to consider whether applying them could bring unwanted consequences”.

It stressed the need for particular care over the “principles of opportunity, proportionality and agreement” when it came to the policing operation.

As well as arresting 14 Catalan government officials and seizing almost 10m ballot papers, police and the courts have been taking down websites connected to the referendum.

On Monday police summoned 17 people for questioning over the development of web platforms related to the vote.

A police spokesman told Agence France-Presse the 17 were suspected of “disseminating a website for people to participate in a referendum declared illegal by the constitutional court”. He said they were alleged to have “made it easy for people to get documents … to organise the plebiscite”.

Catalonia’s regional president, Carles Puigdemont, has tweeted links to websites telling people where to vote on Sunday, but the posts were removed after a court ordered that sites used to share such information be blocked.

The Catalan fight for independence explained – video

On Monday evening the website of the large pro-independence group the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) was taken down by Spain’s Guardia Civil. It reappeared at a different address within an hour.

“We received no notification whatsoever from the Guardia Civil,” said an ANC spokesman. “It shows that the government cares more about stopping people from voting than they do about preserving freedoms in Spain.”

A spokesman for the Catalan government described the latest moves as a threat to free expression and said a letter of protest had been sent to the European commission.

“What they’re doing by blocking domain name servers is doing what Turkey does and what China does and what North Korea does,” said the spokesman. “No western democracy does that. The internet is the kingdom of freedom.”

The letter says the online crackdown is part of “the ongoing unlawful repression of the institutions of autonomy of Catalonia” and calls on the commission to act as “the ultimate guardian of the open and free internet, which is truly at stake now”.

Asked about the legality of the Spanish authorities’ actions, the commission referred the Guardian to remarks made by its chief spokesman on Tuesday.

“We don’t have anything to say other than to reiterate our respect for the legal order – the constitutional order – within which all these measures have been taken,” Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday.

Spain’s interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday afternoon Spain’s national court announced it was planning to investigate whether sedition charges should be brought against protesters who took part in a 40,000-strong demonstration in Barcelona against last week’s arrests.

Two Guardia Civil vehicles were attacked during the protest. In a complaint lodged last week, the court’s chief prosecutor named the ANC and another independence group, Òmnium Cultural, as the organisers of the demonstration.

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German writer held in Spain on Turkish warrant granted conditional release | World news

Germany welcomed the release on Sunday of a German writer detained in Spain on a Turkish warrant and accused Turkey of abusing the international system used to hunt down fugitives.

Turkish-born writer Doğan Akhanlı, who has German citizenship, was arrested on Saturday while on holiday in southern Spain. Akhanlı was conditionally released after a court hearing on Sunday, but ordered to remain in Madrid while Turkey’s extradition request is considered, his lawyer said.

It was not immediately clear what Akhanlı is accused of, but the author has in the past written about the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915. The killings are a sensitive subject in Turkey, which rejects the widespread view that they constituted genocide.

In a statement, the German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, praised Akhanlı’s release and said “it would be terrible if Turkey could get people who raise their voice against [Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan imprisoned on the other side of Europe.

“I have complete faith in Spain’s judicial system and know that our friends and partners in the Spanish government understand what’s at stake,” Gabriel said.

Erdoğan hit back while speaking to supporters in Istanbul, attributing Ankara’s souring relations with Berlin to next month’s German election and warning Germany to “mind its own business”.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the arrest of Akhanlı was wrong.

“We mustn’t abuse international organisations like Interpol for this,” she told German broadcaster RTL.

German chancellor Angela Merkel

German chancellor Angela Merkel has called Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks on the German election ‘unacceptable’. Photograph: Sebastian Kahnert/AP

The already high tensions between the two countries hit another peak on Friday when Erdoğan said all of Germany’s mainstream parties were enemies of Turkey and urged Turkish-Germans to not vote for them in the upcoming election.

Merkel called Erdoğan’s comments “completely unacceptable”.

“I invite everyone to vote, here in a free country,” she said.

Merkel said she would work hard to improve prison conditions for a number of Germans currently detained in Turkey on accusations of supporting banned organisations.

Akhanlı emigrated to Germany in 1991 after spending years in a Turkish prison following the 1980 military coup in the country.

The German section of the writers’ association PEN called the arrest warrant against Akhanlı politically motivated.

Spain is also holding Turkish-Swedish reporter and writer Hamza Yalcin, who was arrested on 3 August in Barcelona on a Turkish warrant for alleged terrorism.

PEN and Reporters Without Borders have demanded his release. The Swedish branch of Reporters Without Borders said Yalcin’s arrest was an attempt by Erdoğan to show he can reach critical voices abroad.

Spain’s Freedom of Information Defence Platform said it welcomed the decision on Akhanlı, but reiterated that it expects Yalcin to be let go and Spain to explain both arrests.

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Play in Polish theatre accused of inciting audience to murder | World news

The producers of a controversial play in Poland are being investigated by state prosecutors over allegations they are inciting the audience to murder.

The Curse (Klątwa) is being staged at Teatr Powszechny in Warsaw and is directed by Oliver Frljić, a Croatian director. It examines the relationship between the Polish Catholic church and the state, and condemns the authorities for failing to respond to allegations of child abuse by members of the clergy.

In the play’s most notorious scene, an actor simulates oral sex on a plastic statue of the late Polish pope John Paul II, as a sign reads: “Defender of paedophiles”.

In another scene, an actor considers the legality of a fictional speech in which she would – hypothetically – raise money to pay for the assassination of Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).

The production has been sold out since it opened in February, but soon after its premiere, prosecutors – who have been overseen by the government since PiS won elections in 2015 – announced the production was under investigation.

Tymoteusz Zych, from the conservative advocacy group Ordo Iuris, which drew up proposals for a blanket ban on abortion that sparked street protests last year, has described the play as hate speech. He said the production “includes a number of scenes which have basic features of hate speech targeted against Christians and stigmatisation of this group”.

Jacek Kurski, a PiS official who was appointed director of state television after PiS assumed office, tweeted after the play opened: “There is and there will be no space on TV for degrading the sanctity of Poles or calling for political murder”.

Many of the scenes also deal provocatively with issues concerning religion and national identity in contemporary Poland, including abortion and Muslim migration.

One audience member was injured with a liquid corrosive during a protest against the production in May.

One audience member was injured with a liquid corrosive during a protest against the production in May. Photograph: Jakub Szafrański

The producers of The Curse have accused Poland’s state-controlled media of deliberately whipping up public anger that has led to heated protests and death threats against actors and theatre staff.

They claim the state broadcaster TVP made a recording of the production without its permission, and published excerpts removed from their wider context in a deliberate attempt to stoke public anger – in particular by misrepresenting the play as calling for Kaczyński’s assassination. The theatre is initiating legal action against TVP.

Last month members of religious and nationalist groups clashed with police and free speech advocates outside the theatre, letting off flares and attempting to block theatregoers from entering. One audience member was taken to hospital after apparently being attacked with a liquid corrosive.

Paweł Łysak, Teatr Powszechny’s director, insisted that the play’s ire is not focused on Christians or Christianity. “This is about how politicians and the church use ideology. This is not about God, this is not about beliefs, this is not about Jesus, not about the Virgin Mary. This is about institutions and oppression by these institutions.”

The Curse is a loose adaptation of a 19th century play of the same name by the Polish polymath Stanisław Wyspiański. Written in 1899, it is set in a village in southern Poland that blames a severe drought on the sexual relationship between their village priest and a local girl. In a fit of hysteria, the mob turns not on the priest but on the girl, stoning her to death.

Łysak said the subject matter remained pertinent: “It has been a hundred years since Wyspiański wrote the play, and we have the same problems.”

TVP has since cancelled a production in which Julia Wyszyńska, who performs in the scene featuring the statue of John Paul II, was due to play a leading role.

The government’s response to The Curse has exacerbated concerns about its commitment to freedom of artistic expression. In 2015 the culture minister, Piotr Gliński, attempted to ban a production in the western city of Wrocław on the grounds that public money should not be used to subsidise “pornography”. Gliński also withdrew state funding from the Malta theatre festival in the western city of Poznań, which this year is being curated by Frljić.

Frljić, however, has said the state-led backlash has simply proved The Curse’s point. “It is not just what’s going on on stage, it’s what happens in a broader social context,” he said. “It would be great if the protesters could understand that they too are part of this performance.”

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