Spain's state prosecutor's office has said it will present criminal charges against members of the Catalan parliament to prevent a referendum on independence for Catalonia from going ahead on Oct. 1.
A majority of Catalonia’s parliament voted Wednesday to hold the referendum during a vote that saw mainstream political parties leave the chamber and pro-independence lawmakers sing the Catalan anthem.
The Spanish government has said any referendum on regional secession from Spain is illegal because the constitution states that the country is indivisible.
Jose Manuel Maza, the state prosecutor-general, told reporters criminal charges are being prepared against leading members of the Catalan parliament for allowing Wednesday’s vote to go ahead.
He said he had also asked the security forces to investigate any preparations by the Catalan government to hold the referendum, including printing leaflets or preparing polling stations.
Teachers, police and administrative workers are among civil servants that could face fines or potentially the loss of their jobs by manning polling stations or taking part in other activities deemed as helping the vote.
The referendum vote will ask Catalonians to decide whether they want “Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a republic,” and should a majority vote "yes," the assembly will declare independence within 48 hours.
“Committed to freedom and democracy! We push on!” the deputy governor of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras tweeted after the victory.
Spain's Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria called Catalonia's parliamentary debate an “embarrassing show,” and a “kick to democracy, to Catalans and to political decency.”
In a news conference Monday the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, told reporters that the government would use the full force of the law to ensure that an independence referendum would not go ahead, saying that it was an attempt to “do away with the constitution and national sovereignty.”
“They will not do it,” Rajoy said.
Recent opinion polls however, show that a majority of Catalans, 70 percent, want the referendum to go forward in order to democratically decide the longstanding debate and struggle.
“Calling a referendum is not a crime,” Junqueras said.
Accounting for over a fifth of Spain's economic output, Catalonia is a major economic powerhouse and prosperous region which has a strong national identity.
Catalan politicians have already been punished for preparing a nonbinding ballot on independence in 2014, which gave a “yes” vote with a turnout of just over 30 percent.