The first of hundreds of Catalan mayors under investigation for helping to stage an independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid appeared before Spanish prosecutors for questioning on Tuesday but were not charged.
The mayors of three small towns -- Mollerussa, Oliana and Pont de Suert -- exercised their right to remain silent during their hearings, said a spokesman for Catalonia's Municipal Association for Independence (AMI).
"They were not notified of any charges," he said, calling their summons for questioning "unnecessary and disproportionate".
Spain's public prosecutor has opened an investigation into more than 700 Catalan mayors who have backed the referendum slated for October 1, which the country's Constitutional Court has ordered be suspended while it considers arguments that the vote is unconstitutional.
About 50 mayors have been formally summoned to be questioned as part of this investigation. Prosecutors have threated to arrest mayors who do not turn up for questioning when summoned.
"I did not answer any question and finally they gave me a warning," Marc Solsona, the mayor of Morallers, told reporters as he left the state prosecutor’s office in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia.
Dozens of supporters gathered outside of the office and chanted "No tinc por", Catalan for "We are not afraid".
The speaker of Catalonia's regional parliament, Carme Forcadell, was among the people who turned out.
Over two-thirds of Catalonia mayors have said they will open their schools and other buildings to allow polling stations to be set up. Most of them are from small towns in the Catalan countryside where support for independence is higher.
Five of Catalonia's 10 largest cities however have declined to help the referendum.
Pro-separatist parties captured 47.6 percent of the vote in a September 2015 regional election in Catalonia billed as a proxy vote on independence, giving them a narrow majority of 72 seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament.
But polls show Catalonia's roughly 7.5 million residents are deeply divided on independence.
A survey commissioned by the regional government in July showed 49.4 percent of Catalans were against independence while 41.1 percent were in favour.
Over 70 percent of Catalans want a legal referendum on independence to settle the issue.