Microsoft-owned Github has removed the APK of an app for organizing political protests in the autonomous community of Catalonia — acting on a court takedown request sent by Spain’s Guardia Civil, a national police force with military status.
As we reported earlier this month supporters of independence for Catalonia have regrouped under a new banner — calling itself Tsunami Democràtic — with the aim of rebooting the political movement and campaigning for self-determination by mobilizing street protests and peaceful civil disobedience.
The group has also been developing bespoke technology tools to coordinate protest action. It’s one of these tools, the Tsunami Democràtic app, which was being hosted as an APK on Github and has now been taken down.
The app registers supporters of independence by asking them to communicate their availability and resources for taking part in local protest actions across Catalonia. Users are also asked to register for protest actions and check-in when they get there — at which point the app asks them to abide by a promise of non-violence (see point 3 in this sample screengrab):
Users of the app see only upcoming protests relevant to their location and availability — making it different to the one-to-many broadcasts that Tsunami Democràtic also puts out via its channel on the Telegram messaging app.
Essentially, it’s a decentalized tool for mobilizing smaller, localized protest actions vs the largest demos which continue to be organized via Telegram broadcasts (such as a mass blockade of Barcelona airport, earlier this month).
A source with knowledge of Tsunami Democràtic previously told us the sorts of protests intended to be coordinated via the app could include actions such as go-slows to disrupt traffic on local roads and fake shopping sprees in supermarkets, with protestors abandoning carts filled with products in the store.
In a section of Github’s site detailing government takedowns the request from the Spanish state to remove the Tsunami Democràtic app sits alongside folders containing historical takedown requests from China and Russia.
“There is an ongoing investigation being carried out by the National High Court where the movement Tsunami Democràtic has been confirmed as a criminal organization driving people to commit terrorist attacks. Tsunami Democràtic’s main goal is coordinating these riots and terrorist actions by using any possible mean,” the Guardia Civil writes in the letter sent to Github — attaching a national court warrant “in order to request both withholding the content and data related to the aforementioned investigation”.
We’ve reached out to Microsoft for comment on Github’s decision to remove the app APK.
In a note about government takedowns on Github’s website it writes:
From time to time, GitHub receives requests from governments to remove content that has been declared unlawful in their local jurisdiction. Although we may not always agree with those laws, we may need to block content if we receive a valid request from a government official so that our users in that jurisdiction may continue to have access to GitHub to collaborate and build software.
“GitHub does not endorse or adopt any assertion contained in the following notices,” it adds in a further caveat on the page.
The trigger for the latest wave of street demonstrations in Catalonia were lengthy jail sentences handed down to a number of Catalan political and cultural leaders by Spain’s Supreme Court earlier this month.
These were people involved in organizing an illegal independence referendum two years ago. The majority of these Catalan leaders were convicted for sedition. None were found guilty of the more serious charge of rebellion — but sentences ran as long as 13 years nonetheless.
This month Spanish judges also reissued a European arrest warrant seeking to extradite the former leader of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, from Brussels to Spain to face trial. Last year a court in Germany refused his extradition to Spain on charges of rebellion or sedition — only allowing it on lesser grounds of misuse of public funds. A charge which Spain did not pursue.
Puigdemont fled Catalonia in the wake of the failed 2017 independence bid and has remained living in exile in Brussels. He has also since been elected as an MEP but has been unable to take up his seat in the EU parliament after the Spanish state moved to block him from being recognized as a parliamentarian.
Shortly after the latest wave of pro-independence demonstrations took off in Catalonia the Tsunami Democràtic movement’s website was taken offline — also as a result of a takedown request by the Spanish state.
The website remains offline at the time of writing.
While the Tsunami Democràtic app could be accused of encouraging disruption, the charge of “terrorism” is clearly overblown. Unless your definition of terrorism extends to harnessing the power of peaceful civil resistance to generate momentum for political change.
And while there has been unrest on the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan towns and cities this month, with fires being lit and projectiles thrown at police, there are conflicting reports about what has triggered these clashes between police and protestors — including criticism of the police response as overly aggressive vs what has been, in the main, large but peaceful crowds of pro-democracy demonstrators.
The police response on the day of the 2017 referendum was also widely condemned as violently disproportionate, with scenes of riot gear clad police officers beating up people as they tried to cast a vote.
Local press in Catalonia has reported the European Commission response to Spain’s takedown of the Tsunami Democràtic website — saying the pan-EU body said Spain has a responsibility to find “the right balance between guaranteeing freedom of expression and upholding public order and ensuring security, as well as protecting [citizens] from illegal content”.
Asked what impact the Github takedown of the Tsunami Democràtic app’s APK will have on the app, a source with knowledge of the movement suggested very little — pointing out that the APK is now being hosted on Telegram.
Similarly, the content that was available on the movement’s website is being posted to its 380,000+ subscribers on Telegram — a messaging platform that’s itself been targeted for blocks by authoritarian states in various locations around the world. (Though not, so far, in Spain.)
Another protest support tool that’s been in the works in Catalonia — a live-map for crowdsourcing information about street protests which looks similar to the HKlive.maps app used by pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong — is still in testing but expected to launch soon, per the source.
This report was updated to clarify that the Guardia Civil is a national police force with military status, and with additional detail about the national court warrant sent to Github by the Guardia Civil