Spain: human rights abuses and political prosecution

The political and civil rights of European citizens are being violated with impunity by the Spanish authorities. Catalan representatives and activists are still retaliated against and are being prosecuted for the 2017 independence referendum and the ensuing demonstrations.

On ‘Freedom of political speech: an imperative for democracy, the Council of Europe states that defending independence is not a crime and that freedom of speech is paramount for political debate and democracy. The document mentions that anyone,  and especially politicians, may make proposals defending constitutional changes, including full independence of a region. The report also recalls that any politician detained for making statements in the exercise of their mandate should be released, a reference to the Cilevics report, when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe requested the release of the Catalan political prisoners.

Spain has violated the rights of freedom of speech and political rights of many public officers of the Catalan government and the Catalan parliament, with some being jailed as a result. Despite their release in 2021, they are still banned by Spanish courts from holding office again and no reparations have been granted to them for being jailed for more than 4 years. The Catalan representatives were suspended from public duties prior to conviction, which according to the UN Human Rights Committee was a violation of their political rights.

Following the 2017 independence referendum, not only were politicians jailed but so were civil society leaders such as Jordi Cuixart, the former president of Òmnium Cultural, and Jordi Sanchez, thepresident of the Catalan National Assembly at the time of the referendum. Their arrest was denounced by Amnesty International, which stated that their continued detention constitutes a disproportionate restriction of their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

Several Catalan representatives had to flee to avoid jail sentences, such as former president Carles Puigdemont. The Spanish judges’ European Arrest Warrants for sedition were turned down by the EU countries where the Catalan leaders were exiled.

In 2022, the modification of the Spanish Penal Code eliminated the crime of sedition but added a new crime of ‘aggravated public disorder’ in a clear attempt to facilitate the extradition of the exiles and facilitate jail sentences. The reform also incorporates intimidation, provocation, conspiracy and solicitation as causes of crime and disqualification sentences for workers and public officials, which alarmed judicial and human rights organisations.