Spain court to probe 8 police over Catalan referendum violence

Spanish police officers clash with people outside a polling station in Barcelona, on October 1, 2017, on the day of a referendum on independence for Catalonia banned by Madrid (AFP Photo/PAU BARRENA)

Madrid (AFP) - A Spanish court has ordered eight police officials to be put under formal investigation over their alleged role in a violent crackdown against a banned 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia, according to a ruling published Thursday.

Footage beamed around the world showed police dragging voters from polling stations by their hair, throwing people down stairs and striking them with batons during the October 1, 2017 referendum in the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, sparking shock and complaints from human rights groups.

A court ordered eight officers who were "directly responsible for the... operations carried out in each polling station which are being probed... to be put under investigation," according to a ruling dated August 1 which was made public on Thursday.

It summoned the eight officers to appear before a Barcelona court on October 9 and 11.

Both national and regional police were given orders to stop the referendum, which had been banned by the courts and Spain's central government, from going ahead.

National police leaders defended their handling of the referendum when they took the stand as witnesses earlier this year at the high-profile trial in Madrid of Catalan leaders over their role in staging the plebiscite.

They argued that Catalonia's regional police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, did not comply as their leaders sided with Catalonia's separatist government, leaving it to national police to seize ballot papers and boxes, leading to clashes in polling stations.