Amnesty International condemns Spain over Catalan repression

During Catalan referendum, rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly were “disproportionately restricted”, says Amnesty report

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, the human rights non-governmental organisation, has noted a number of serious human rights violations in Spain and Catalonia as a result of the actions of the Spanish Government and Spanish authorities during 2017’s Catalan independence referendum.

In its newly published report for 2017/18, which details the state of human rights across the world, Amnesty asserts that in October 2017, “Spanish security forces that were ordered to prevent the holding of the Catalan independence referendum used unnecessary and disproportionate force against demonstrators, injuring hundreds of them. This included evidence of police beating peaceful demonstrators.”

Following the ruling by the Spanish constitutional court that Catalonia’s 1 October referendum of declaring independence was unlawful, Spanish authorities employed many violent tactics widely regarded as unjustified or excessive by the international community after they were documented by both activists and media.

“Spanish security forces that were ordered to prevent the holding of the Catalan independence referendum used unnecessary and disproportionate force against demonstrators.” Amnesty International 2017/18 Report

Speaking to the English language Catalan media outlet Catalan News, Gauri van Gulik, director of Amnesty’s regional office in Europe, expanded on the report’s conclusions, also commenting on the ongoing trials of several Catalan political figures for sedition and rebellion due to their part in the Catalan independence process.

Van Gulik told Catalan news: “We have to see accountability for this violence. There is less attention now in the Catalan media for those cases of people who were injured, people who were seriously hurt. And also for the cases of the investigations that are happening now against the police officers involved in that.

Van Gulik continued by commenting on the trials of significant figures within the Catalan independence movement: “The second issue that we're looking into is broadly all the fair trial problems. While these trials go on both for community leaders as well as politicians, we look at what are the crimes that they allegedly committed, what are the actual accusations and how the courts are applying fair trial standards on those cases.

READ MORE: “We carried out a referendum and we won it”: Former Catalan MP faces Spanish Supreme Court

“And really what's more extreme in our view is this excessive and disproportionate pre-trial detention in particular of the ‘Jordis,’ [referring to imprisoned Catalan grassroots leaders Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart] because there's no justification for it and just two weeks ago there was a renewed continuation of this detention, so this is something that we follow and continue to document it as we can.”

At present, four Catalan pro-independence figures are imprisoned in Madrid: Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, Catalan home affairs minister Joaquim Forn, and grassroots activists Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart.

Asked by Catalan News whether those imprisoned on charges of sedition and rebellion were considered political prisoners by Amnesty, Van Gulik replied: “This is a bit of a tricky categorization, because Amnesty International bases itself on international human rights laws.

“Political prisoners, of course, have a literal meaning, as in prisoners in the context of a political situation, but it's also often used in the media as a term that means more than that. We don't use it in that sense. And we can't use it here for many reasons. I think that it’s quite clear that these are people who are in prison in the context of a political conflict.

“We haven't found justification as far as we can see for this kind of pre-trial detention and we also flag – and this is important – that overall this use of pre-trial detention, keeping people locked up without really clear grounds or reasons or justifications for it, is much more dangerous also in a broader sense: it's not just about these individuals, it sends a very scary message.”

“They are political prisoners because their behaviour has been purely political.” Former Catalan chief prosecutor José Maria Mena

Also this week, Catalonia’s former chief prosecutor José Maria Mena described the imprisoned Catalan leaders as “political prisoners” during an interview with public Catalan TV station TV3.

“They are political prisoners because their behaviour has been purely political,” Mena argued, describing the Catalan independence movement as “perfectly legal.”

In response to accusations that imprisoned grassroots activists had incited violence during the embattled referendum, Menu disputed such claims, saying: “To accuse someone of violence, one must prove they have organized violence.”

Despite condemnation of Spanish police tactics by both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy this week said that he is “proud” of Spanish police and defended their response to the Catalan referendum, which he described as a “coup against democracy.”

“I will not get a fair trial in my country.” Former Catalan MP Anna Gabriel

Earlier today (23 February), 14 activists were arrested outside of the Spanish Supreme Court in Catalonia for blocking entrance to the building as part of a protest against the imprisonment of pro-independent figures, which the activists have characterised as “state repression.”

Earlier this week, former Catalan MP for the anti-capitalist pro-independence party CUP Anna Gabriel, due to appear in court on 21 February regarding her involvement in the planning of the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence, instead left for Geneva Switzerland, where she currently remains.

Speaking to Swiss media earlier this week, Gabriel declared she would be remaining in Geneva, saying: “I will not get a fair trial in my country.”

Picture courtesy of Sasha Popovic

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