The Council of Europe Denounces the “Retaliation and Intimidation” by Spain against Jordi Cuixart, a Catalan pro-Independence Human Rights Defender

The Council of Europe denounces the continued suffering of the Catalan political prisoner and President of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart. This was stated in a report written by the General Rapporteur of Human Rights Defenders of the Council of Europe, Alexandra Louis, after Jordi Cuixart’s situation was analyzed by the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Body, where his treatment was equated with that of other human rights defenders imprisoned in countries of dubious democratic quality such as Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The report states that “the trial against Cuixart was political in nature, and he should not have been tried by the Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction to try elected officials and not activists of civil society like him.” The rapporteur also pointed out that Cuixart is the president of “an association that promotes civil and cultural rights in Catalonia that was founded in 1961 under the Franco dictatorship.”

Louis also affirms that she will “continue to pay close attention to the work of the institutions of the Council of Europe.”

“I will also oversee the work of other international organizations on this issue and alert the committee and the Assembly to new cases of violations of the rights of human rights defenders and all new initiatives aimed at protecting them,” she stated.

Reprisals and intimidation

The rapporteur says that examples such as Cuixart’s show that “human rights defenders are still suffering reprisals and intimidation, and that their situation has not improved, but has even worsened in certain European member states,” comparing it with the situation in Turkey.

Arbitrary Judiciary

In 2018, the GRECO group (Group of State against Corruption of the Council of Europe) stated that Spain has a problem of judicial independence, and the human rights advisers of this body have also questioned the proportionality of the Judgment in Democracy.

International call for Cuixart’s release

Prestigious institutions and entities have called for the release of Jordi Cuixart. The list includes: Amnesty International, the World Organization Against Torture, Front Line Defenders, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Association of European Democratic Lawyers, the International Commission of Jurists, and the International PEN, among others. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also questioned the allegations against Cuixart and his imprisonment, while calling for his release and for the Spanish government to open an investigation into his imprisonment. Still within the framework of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and three Special Rapporteurs, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on Minorities.

In addition, there have been many political, social, and cultural figures from around the world who have expressed support for Jordi Cuixart and called for his release. The manifesto made public at the beginning of the year stands out around fifty internationally known figures ask for amnesty for all those against whom the Spanish state retaliated. It was signed by Dilma Rousseff, Gerry Adams, Yoko Ono, Ai Wei Wei and five Nobel laureates: Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Jody Williams, Mairead Corrigan, and Elfriede Jelinek.

Catalan Pro-Independence Parties Register an Amnesty Bill in the Spanish Congress

On Tuesday, the Catalan pro-independence parties ERC, Junts, CUP and PDECat registered a draft bill for an amnesty law in the Spanish Congress. This seeks the extinction of any kind of criminal and administrative responsibility for all acts of political intent related to the democratic struggle for self-determination of Catalonia since January 1, 2013, which would grant a pardon to over 3,000 victims of reprisals.

The proposal, which has to be debated in Congress, has no chance of passing. PP and Vox have already announced their refusal and the senior cabinet minister and PSOE organizational secretary José Luis Ábalos also confirmed that his party will oppose the amnesty law, thus closing the doors to a possible approval.

The position of Unidas Podemos, which is in a coalition government with PSOE, is still unknown. The group’s president in Congress, Jaume Asens, said that they will not vote against it. However, he has not clarified yet whether they will abstain or vote in favor, and has stated that it will depend on the wording of the text.

The Spanish government was considering other alternatives, which have been rejected or deliberated postponed, such as granting presidential pardons to the nine politicians and high-profile activists political prisoners or a reform of the crime of sedition for which they were convicted. However, these proposals would only benefit the top leaders of the pro-independence movement, leaving over 3,000 lower-profile cases unresolved.

The Vice-President of the Catalan civil society organization Òmnium Cultural, Marcel Mauri, said that the approval of the amnesty law by the Congress will “depend on the political will to resolve the Catalan conflict. It would be an “important step” that should make it possible to “turn the page,” he added.

Montse Bassa (ERC) warned that rejecting this amnesty law is “maintaining injustice and revenge” and “wanting to negotiate [while holding] hostages”.

Míriam Nogueras (Junts) stated that the Spanish government has not yet put any alternative on the table.

Mireia Vehí (CUP) recalled that, with the presentation of this bill, PSOE has the ball in its court.

The Catalan National Assembly (ANC) did not attend the event because approval of the amnesty law in Congress is not possible.

Spanish Government Dialogue and Reconciliation? Immunity of Catalan MEPs Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí Stripped and Seven of the Nine Political Prisoners Sent Back to Prison

On Tuesday, the European Parliament approved the removal of the immunity of Catalan MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí after a plenary session vote. The Spanish political parties PSOE, PP and Vox had requested this. The secret ballot was held on Monday, but the results were released on Tuesday morning.

The vote was not unanimous and some 80 MEPs from the Socialists, PP and Liberal groups broke the voting discipline imposed by PSOE and PP. That means that 42% of the MEPs didn’t vote in favour of the immunity waiver, which is an unprecedentedly high figure in such cases.

– In the case of Puigdemont, 400 MEPs voted in favour of removing his immunity, 248 against and 45 representatives abstained.
– In the case of Toni Comí, 404 MEPs voted in favor of removing his immunity, 247 against and 42 representatives abstained.
– In the case of Clara Ponsatí, 404 MEPs voted in favor of removing her immunity, 247 against and 42 representatives abstained.

Spain seeks the extradition of the Catalan leaders for their role in the 2017 independence referendum – this is the third time the Supreme Court has attempted to have them handed over. Belgium, Germany, and Scotland rejected extradition requests before and Spain withdrew the EU arrest warrant on another occasion before it was denied.

Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí will keep their status as MEPs. They would lose their status only after extradition and conviction in a Spanish court. The extradition would have to be approved by a local court.

Belgian justice already denied the extradition request for exiled Catalan leader Lluís Puig, who didn’t have immunity, on the grounds that the Spanish Supreme Court was not competent to request his extradition.

Removal of the Open Prison Privileges for the Seven Male Political Prisoners

On Tuesday, a few hours after the European Parliament decided to remove the immunity of the exiled Catalan leaders and MEPs, a penitentiary court decided to remove the day-leave permits of the seven male pro-independence political prisoners, who will now have to stay in prison full-time.

They had been enjoying the “low security” prison category status since late January, allowing them to leave jail during the day, sleep in their cells at night, and go home on weekends, after over three years behind bars.

The other two female political prisoners persecuted for their role in the 2017 referendum, Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa, are still pending a final decision of another Catalan penitentiary court.

Punishment

The pro-independence movement has interpreted these moves as a punishment for getting historic results in the last Catalan elections, surpassing 50% of the popular vote for the first time, with 52%.

A Few Reasons Why Young Protesters Have Been Demonstrating in Catalonia Over the Last Week

Freedom of Expression

The arbitrary imprisonment of rapper Pablo Hasel for his song lyrics and tweets criticizing the monarchy and the police has motivated many youngsters to take to the streets. Where the international community and society see freedom of expression, the Spanish justice system sees “glorification of terrorism and slander.”

No Future Prospectsfor Young People

With 40% youth unemployment, the highest rate in the EU, young people see no future prospects. They don’t have access to the job market, and when they do the jobs are precarious, not letting them leave home and build a vital, independent life. This situation has been ongoing for a long time and the general sentiment is that the system has left them behind.

Cumulative Anger from Past Injustices

In the last few years, thousands of Catalans: rappers, activists, political leaders, etc., have been prosecuted, repressed, forced into exile or jailed, while reactionary forces and fascists have been able to spread hatred across society with absolute impunity.

Mistrust in Politics

The general perception of society is that their problems have never been solved through politics and that the current system is punishing them.

Police Brutality During the Protests

The way that the police dealt with the first few days of unrest was another motivation for protest. For example, one 19-year-old woman lost her eye to a police-fired foam bullet, and a group of peaceful protesters was kettled and were hit with batons. 

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Once Again Condemns Spain for Not Investigating Tortures

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, Sign a Manifesto Calling for an Amnesty for Catalan Political Prisoners

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.

The Spanish Constitutional Court Rules that an Insult to the Spanish Flag Is a Crime

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).

Amnesty International Once Again Calls for the Immediate Release of Jailed Catalan Leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez

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 Order Whatsapp and Telegram to Send Messages in Exceptional Situations: Many Fear It Will Be Used Against the Population

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.

Controversy

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.

Catalan Interior Ministry Announces that 50 Catalan Police Officers (Mossos) Are Under Investigation for Alleged Irregularities and Violence, but only One Officer Has Been Suspended

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.