Defending independence is not a crime according to the Council of Europe

This text has been drafted by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Buric, and has been presented to the committee of European ministers.

The Council of Europe has published a document titled “Freedom of speech: an imperative for democracy”. According to this document, freedom of speech is paramount for political debate and the function of democracy. Therefore, any interference with this right must come under the scrutiny of the courts, especially those defending fundamental rights.

Parliamentary immunity aims to protect representatives’ right to freedom of speech, especially among those in opposition. That is why this right is so important for the proper functioning of democratic systems.
The document specifically mentions that anyone and especially politicians are allowed to make proposals defending constitutional changes, including full independence of a region. It recalls that according to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, any politician detained for making statements in the exercise of their political mandate shall be considered political prisoners and must be released.

This is an obvious reminder of the Cilevics report, when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe requested the release by Spain of the Catalan political prisoners. The document also mentions other institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Venice Commission being in agreement with the Parliamentary Assembly’s opinion.

This is yet another step by European institutions to decriminalize political dissidence, with the Catalan pro-independence movement as one example, if not the best, of political persecution within the European Union. It adds to the opinion of other international institutions mentioned above, alongside the decisions by Scottish, German, Italian and Belgian courts not to extradite the exiled Catalan politicians, highlighting the legal isolation of Spanish courts in Europe.

Spain has violated the rights of freedom of speech of many public officers of the Catalan government and the Catalan parliament, some of them 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 National Assembly will continue to defend the right of the Catalan people to self-determination and to denounce the Spanish violations of human rights until the European Union stops deeming this conflict an internal Spanish affair, and sees it as a threat to the proper functioning of European democratic institutions.