Spain: human rights abuses and political prosecution

In the European Union, year 2021, it seems unbelievable that European citizens, such as we Catalans, still have to fight for fundamental rights such as free speech, freedom of press, association and demonstration. Spain signed and ratified the Charter of the UN and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, treaties that recognise the peoples‘ right to self-determination. We want to live in a country that respects its citizens and human rights and does not discriminate against minorities.

Spain, since the beginning of the government of President Mariano Rajoy on the 21st of December 2011, has adopted measures that imply a clear regression in human rights and has seen a steady escalation of threats to the Rule of law, with the freedom of press, speech, association and demonstration all being challenged. This deterioration continues under the presidency of Pedro Sánchez and his government.

Before the Oct 1 referendum, the Spanish authorities sent thousands of troops of the militarised Guardia Civil to Catalonia hunting for posters and flyers promoting the participation in the referendum of self-determination. Masses of paperwork were reported and confiscated. Material having anything to do with the referendum was confiscated indiscriminately, in clear violation of the rights of free speech and information. The right to assembly is under active attack: the mere act of organising a debate on the right to self-determination was enough reason for judges and police to intervene as they did in Madrid, Vitoria, Valencia or Zaragoza e.g., as denounced by Amnesty International. The Catalan Ombudsman received more than 200 complaints of people who were denied the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. Only a month after the elections have these prohibitions been overruled.

On Oct 1, we all could follow live images of police forces brutally charging on pacific and peaceful crowds standing in lines to vote. The Spanish government has since then systematically downplayed or denied any police violence, although independent internationals organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Council of Europe affirmed the police “used excessive force in Catalonia.” These instances have asked the Spanish government to set up full, immediate and independent investigations into the events occurred on Oct 1. The Spanish government has not only categorically refused to do so, it even made the Constitutional Court suspend a Catalan commission probing into the police violence in the attempt to smother all possible investigation. A year after the events, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch lament that Spain still hasn’t investigated the police violence of Oct 1.

The free press is under threat
. Editorial offices of various newspapers received an intimidating visit from the Guardia Civil last year, communicating to them that they could not publish anything related to the organisation of the referendum. The same happened with radio and TV companies. The director of a local newspaper was formally accused of being an accessory to alleged crimes related to preparations for the Oct 1 referendum. Stepping up pressure against the media, the Director General of Catalonia’s public TV network received the order to cancel the Catalan government’s purchase of programming to inform citizens about the Oct 1 referendum, including advertising. He was even told the network was to abstain from reporting on anything concerning the Oct 1 referendum.

Censorship is applied randomly: more than 140 public and private web pages and domains were blocked without a specific court order. Which is contrary to the European legislation on open internet and electronic communication networks and services. Private communications – postal and electronic – have been violated as well. In a free country there is no place for censorship.
As happened in Valencia and the Balearic Isles, the Spanish governments always try to boycott Catalan language media. TV3 has been under constant attack in the media, by Spanish government and its agencies or instances such as the Electoral Commission. The motive is not only to censor, but to control media that are giving another view to the official narrative. The Catalan Media Corporation was under attack through a law that retroactively imposes taxes worth millions of euros and threatening its functioning. A tax that has been saved from TVE, the official state broadcaster tightly controlled by the central government. Added to this, as a state minority, our language has been under continuous attack by the Spanish government, that tries to reduce it to a folkloric relic by its actions against Catalan language media. We want a country that respects its minorities. After three centuries of persecution of our language, it’s obvious only an independent Catalonia will achieve this.

Freedom of speech is actively repressed in Spain. The aforementioned cases are not only a clear deterrent to those who’d want to express divergent political opinions –as should be normal in any mature democracy-, divergent opinions are also actively prosecuted under the guise of ‘hate speech’ or ‘glorification of terrorism’. This is the case for Catalan political dissidents and even for rappers, such as Pablo Hasel and the exiled Josep Miquel Arenas Beltrán (also known as ‘Valtònyc’) and other people making jokes or voicing their political views on Twitter or Facebook. They have been convicted to confirmed imprisonment up to more than 8 years. Belgian Justice refused to extradite him to Spain for ‘terrorism’, referring to the freedom of speech. The situation is so dramatic that Amnesty International began a campaign to defend free speech in Spain. Peaceful actions of Catalan dissidents have even been catalogued as terrorism. This is the case of Adrià Carrasco, a young protester who is sought for ‘terrorism’ by Spain, for having blocked a road in a non-violent manner. Exiled in Belgium, Justice there again refused to extradite him, referring to the right to demonstration.
Criticism against the Spanish monarchy is also prosecuted under the laws on lese-majesty and although the European Court of Human Rights already ruled that existing prison convictions and fines amount to disproportionate interference into the defendants‘ freedom of expression, Spanish legislators refuse to change existent legislation. Only a free Catalan Republic will be able to safeguard free speech.