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Spanish cops raid .cat registry offices in referendum censorship row

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2017, Domain Registries

Spanish police this morning raided the offices of .cat gTLD registry Fundació puntCAT, just days after demanding the company shut down any domains referring to a forthcoming referendum.

There are reports, unconfirmed by puntCAT at this time, that head of IT Pep Masoliver has been arrested in connection with the incident.

On Twitter, puntCAT said shortly after 10am local time (translation by Google Translate): “At this time @guardiacivil is performing an intervention in our offices.”

Guardia Civil is one of Spain’s various police forces.

The raid comes as the national government cracks down on a local referendum on independence for the Catalonia region.

Catalonia was to go to the polls October 1 to decide whether it should split from Spain, but the vote was recently declared illegal by Spain’s highest constitutional court.

Local government officials have reportedly been arrested this morning as part of the crackdown.

It has been reported by Spanish media that puntCAT’s head of IT Pep Masoliver was been arrested at his home.

puntCAT declined to confirm the arrest immediately, telling DI: “Our IT manager has been required for the intervention at our office.”

At the weekend, the registry wrote to ICANN to warn it that Spanish authorities had instructed it on Friday to “block all .cat domains that may contain any kind of information about the forthcoming independence referendum”.

“We are being requested to censor content and suppress freedom of speech,” the letter, which condemned the “unprecedented and absolute scope” of the order, said.

The letter was posted to Twitter in its entirety.

.cat, which is designed for people from the Catalonia region or who speak Catalan, went live in 2006 following ICANN’s 2003 round of “sponsored” gTLD applications.

It had 112,000 domains under management at the last count and a smooth growth curve that would make most new gTLD operators salivate.

As the raid happened just a couple of hours ago and appears to be ongoing, this is breaking news. I’ll provide updates throughout the day as more information emerges.

UPDATE 0950 UTC: The raid appears to have been temporarily frozen while the parties await the arrival of the court order authorizing the raid and the company’s CTO.

UPDATE 1022 UTC: Story updated to reflect reports of a puntCAT employee arrest.

UPDATE 1056 UTC: Updated with statement from puntCAT.

UPDATE 1653 UTC: Masoliver has been charged with “sedition”.