On Wednesday, Spanish law enforcement raided the Barcelona offices of the Fundacio puntCAT, the administrator of the .cat internet domain. According to the nonprofit group, whose name means “Dot-Cat Foundation” in Catalan, their head of IT, Pep Masoliver, has been arrested and charged with “sedition.” All of the computers in the registry service’s office in downtown Barcelona have also reportedly been seized.
Given the popularity of cats on the internet, you’d assume the .cat domain was the realm of cute kitty memes and compulsively watchable videos. But the action actually has nothing to do with militant anti-feline sentiment among Spanish authorities.
The .cat domain is reserved almost exclusively for websites promoting the language or culture of Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain that has been increasingly agitating for independence. A referendum on Catalan independence is scheduled for October 1, and Spanish authorities have been working to stifle it using shockingly repressive and antidemocratic measures. Those have included, according to a statement by politicians opposed to the moves, confiscating campaign material, arresting journalists, and seizing the Catalan government’s finances.
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As reported by the New York Times, Spain last week asked the Fundacio puntCAT to block any domains hosting information about the referendum. It appears that the registrar refused to comply with the order, triggering the raids, seizures, and arrests. The raids on puntCat coincided with raids on a dozen Catalan government offices and the arrest of 14 senior officials, which have triggered widespread unrest in the region.
“The show that we have experienced in our offices this morning has been shameful and degrading, unworthy of a civilized country,” read a statement from Fundacio puntCat. The raid has sparked protest both online and in the streets, with opposition rallying around the hashtag #totsambtupep, or “All With You, Pep.”