On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) once again condemned the Spanish state for failing to investigate allegations of torture and thus violating Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The sentence confirms that Iñigo González Etayo, arrested in 2011, was subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatment” and must be compensated with 20,000 euros.
Iñigo was arrested, along with Gorka Zabala, Jon Patxi Arratibel and Gorka Mayo, by order of the incumbent Minister of the Interior Fernando Grande-Marlaska, then a judge of the Spanish National Court. They were all accused of belonging to a terrorist organization for being members of the Basque pro-independence organization Ekin.
Iñigo claimed that during the interrogation they put a bag over his head, waterboarded him, hit him and made him want to vomit because he couldn’t stand it anymore. The confession was obtained by torture. Its contents were specified by the police. All the detainees reported being tortured by the Civil Guard.
Strasbourg already condemned Spain for failing to investigate allegations of tortures against Patxi Arratibel and Xabier Beortegi, both detained in the same police operation. It is noteworthy that Arratibel signed a police statement with the word “Aztnugal,” which read backwards means “help” in Basque.
50 international personalities, including five Nobel Prize laureates and UN dignitaries, have signed a manifesto promoted by the Catalan civic organization Òmnium Cultural calling for an amnesty for the jailed, exiled and prosecuted over the 2017 independence referendum.
The manifesto argues against the use of courts by Spain “to resolve a political crisis, and urges the Spanish government to end repression and to initiate sincere dialogue with Catalonia to find a political solution that would give the citizens of Catalonia the right to decide their own political future.”
Yoko Ono, Gerry Adams, Dilma Rousseff, Ai Wei Wei, and five Nobel Peace Prize laureates – Jody Williams, Mairead Corrigan, Shirin Ebadi, Elfriede Jelinek and Adolfo Perez Esquivel are amongst the 50 signatories of the manifesto calling for amnesty and the end of repression of Catalans by Spain.
This manifesto comes ahead of Catalan elections on February 14th, which are expected to see pro-independence parties securing an absolute majority with a strong possibility of obtaining over 50% of the total votes.
On Tuesday, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled by majority that insults to the Spanish flag are no longer considered freedom of expression, but a crime.
The divided Court was only able to pass the ruling by a single vote, but it established that indignities against the Spanish flag are crimes as they are not protected by the right to freedom of expression. It did so by dismissing an appeal filed by the trade union, Galician Intersindical Confederation, which was condemned for an offense against the flag in using phrases such as “here I heard the silence of the fucking flag” and “you have to set fire to the fucking flag.”
The trade union alleged that their freedom of expression has been violated. However, the court considered that these expressions were without the protection of fundamental rights.
Five of the court’s twelve judges voted against the decision: Andrés Ollero Tasara, Juan Antonio Xiol Ríos, Cándido Conde-Pumpido Tourón, Encarnación Roca Trías and María Luisa Balaguer Callejón.
Prestigious lawyers such as Gonzalo Boye are considering taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
On Tuesday, Amnesty International called once again for the immediate and unconditional release of jailed Catalan leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, thus bringing an end to the “injustice” they have been suffering for three years, during which they have been in prison.
The two pro-independence activists were jailed for their roles in the 2017 independence push, when they held a peaceful demonstration in front of the Ministry of the Economy. Both Sànchez and Cuixart were leaders of civic organizations, ANC and Òmnium, at the time of their jailing and were not members of any political party that carried out the 2017 independence referendum.
Amnesty considers their imprisonment “disproportionate” and that it “violates their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” The organization presented a technical report in 2019 based on international law that points out the “vagueness” of the crime of sedition for which Cuixart and Sànchez were convicted and states that Spain’s state powers “have the opportunity to correct the effects of an unjust sentence against human rights.”
The writ was presented to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Constitutional Court, the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Attorney General for Constitutional and Human Rights.
After the publication of the report, Jordi Sànchez remarked that “freedom of expression protected him while demonstrating in front of the Ministry of the Economy on September 20, 2017” and that “his arrest, accusation, and conviction had no legal basis.” Meanwhile, Cuixart called on Spain’s PM, Pedro Sánchez, to “comply” with international law and act to free the prisoners.
The Spanish government will be able to send messages by WhatsApp, Telegram and other applications to the population in exceptional situations, according to the preliminary draft of the Telecommunications Act.
“This exceptional and transitional power of direct management or intervention may affect any infrastructure, associated resource or element or level of the network or service that is necessary to preserve or restore public order, public safety or national security,” states the text of the preliminary draft, as reported by the digital newspaper Vozpopuli.
According to the draft, “this power will only be exercised with respect to providers of interpersonal communications services when they are assigned the obligation to transmit public alerts in the event of major catastrophes or imminent or ongoing emergencies.”
The draft proposes a specific intervention by law in communication services such as Whatsapp and Telegram, which operate from outside Spain and pose more problems. For this reason, the Government wants to be able to order them to broadcast messages and alerts that they consider appropriate during an exceptional situation.
What is an exceptional situation? Many people fear the government will use this power to quell legitimate protests or acts of civil disobedience in the future. Whether this law will be used against dissenting and peaceful protesters is still unknown, but the experience in other countries shows that this type of law is likely to be used against the population in the foreseeable future.
On Monday, the Catalan Interior Ministry presented an audit to assess possible police irregularities and announced that 50 Catalan police officers (Mossos) were under investigation for their alleged violence during the protests against the sentencing of jailed Catalan pro-independence leaders last October.
The officers under investigation are being tried in 34 different proceedings. Human rights organizations denounced the excessive use of force by the Catalan and Spanish police during the protests.
Catalan Interior Minister, Miquel Buch, said that there were 877 demonstrations in Catalonia following the Supreme Court ruling. He added that there were “violent episodes” during 20% of these protests. The protests left around 600 people injured, mostly unarmed, peaceful civilians.
Despite the condemnations of police violence by human rights organizations, Eduard Sallent, the head of Catalonia’s police, Mossos, who has been involved in controversies often, defended how the officers dealt with the protests, stressing that their attitude was “mostly passive and defensive.”
For now, only one officer has been suspended, according to Sallent.
The presentation of the audit became mired in controversy because not all media organizations were notified about the event and some journalists were not allowed to attend it despite the fact that there was space inside the Egara auditorium. ERC and CUP deputies also denounced that the parliamentary group that is part of the Interior Committee was not allowed to attend the press conference.
There has been complete secrecy of the Mossos on the audit and alleged irregularities in the last few months. Little information has been released and the presentation of the document earlier this week has raised many questions. Awaiting the outcome of all the investigations currently underway, Catalan society expects openness and more transparency from a police force that is expected to protect all citizens equally regardless of their political affiliation and ethnicity.
The World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) has demanded the annulment of the convictions of jailed Catalan leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez over the 2017 peaceful demonstration.
In a letter sent to Spain’s PM, Pedro Sánchez, the OMCT Secretary General, Gerald Staberock, demands that their sentences be suspended until the Constitutional Court rules on their appeal, which was accepted for consideration on May 6.
Staberock calls on the Spanish state to respect the people’s freedom of expression and assembly enshrined in international treaties that have been adopted by Spain.
“Based on the analysis of the facts, the course of the trial and the content of Judgment No. 459/2019, two elements are of particular concern. The first of these is that the Supreme Court’s ruling violated Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez’s individual rights. The verdict also sets a precedent that could negatively impact the effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of assembly in Spain,” says the anti-torture organization.
Staberock also calls for modification of the crime of sedition in a way that “establishes safeguards against possible restrictions to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Cuixart and Sànchez were convicted for sedition by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019 for their roles in a peaceful demonstration in 2017.
The Spanish Public Prosecutor’s Office opposes the release of jailed Catalan civil society leader and president of Òmnium, Jordi Cuixart, while the Constitutional Court (TC) reviews the sentence resulted from the 2017 independence referendum. The prosecutor considers the prison sentence too high to be suspended. After hearing the parties’ pronouncement, the TC will have to make a decision.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office also declared that the sentence must be completed in order to ensure the “deterrent” effect in the face of possible crimes that may be committed by the rest of society.
Òmnium has reprimanded Pedro Sánchez for missing “the last chance to correct the violation of rights before going to European courts.” The entity emphasizes that the prosecution has taken this decision, ignoring the calls of Amnesty International and major international human rights organizations.
Òmnium vice-president, Marcel Mauri, also reminded that Sánchez said that “the public prosecutor was under his orders” and that it is the same prosecutor who opposes the freedom of Cuixart and the other political prisoners.
The prisoners filed appeals for protection between February and March, just before the pandemic erupted. This is the last step before they can bring their cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but it is also the step that can be extended the longest because the Constitutional Court usually takes years to resolve this type of appeal.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) demanded the immediate release of jailed Catalan leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez. Both have been imprisoned since October 16, 2017, for participating in a peaceful demonstration on September 20, 2017.
AI made public that it sent a technical report to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Spanish State Attorney’s Office, the defense (lawyers) and the private prosecutors (Vox), which highlights the vagueness of the crime of sedition the Catalan leaders are accused of and insists that the sentence against them violates their freedom of expression and assembly. “They must be released immediately,” the organization said in a statement.
The document was provided just at the time the Constitutional Court accepted the appeal of the Catalan leaders to declare the sentence null.
AI considers the sentence a disproportionate restriction of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. It does not meet the requirements of international human rights instruments, such as art. 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and art. 11.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, established to be able to impose restrictions on judgments of this type.
“The definition of the criminal act of sedition must be substantially revised to ensure that it does not unduly criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, nor does it impose disproportionate penalties on acts of peaceful civil disobedience,” said Esteban Beltrán, director of the NGO in Spain.
The Constitutional Court has called for a session on May 6 to decide, amongst other matters, whether to admit writs of appeal by seven of the nine Catalan political prisoners: Jordi Turull, Jordi Sànchez, Josep Rull, Jordi Cuixart, Dolors Bassa, Carme Forcadell and Joaquim Forn.
The Catalan leaders are appealing against their conviction last October for sedition and misuse of public funds. This appeal, which is expected to be admitted but put on standby, is the preliminary step that will enable the political prisoners to appeal their convictions to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg – a process that usually takes between 4 and 7 years.
The nine leaders were convicted last October for their role in the 2017 independence referendum. Their sentences prompted massive social unrest across the country, which ended with hundreds of detentions and prosecutions.
The two political prisoners who will not be part of the May hearing, Oriol Junqueras and Raül Romeva, appealed their sentences last year.