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UN Working Group demands immediate release of Catalan leaders

Note: This original report was published on 29 May. The UN Working Group then later called for the immediate release of four more jailed Catalan leaders. That later report was published on 4 July 2019.

A United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called for the immediate release of three jailed Catalan pro-independence leaders: Jordi CuixartJordi Sànchez and the former Catalan vice president, Oriol Junqueras. They are currently in jail and among 9 other defendants taking part in the Catalan Trial at Spain’s Supreme Court.

Catalan Trial: click here full details of those accused, the charges, and the accusers.

A report by the UN group, first published by the Nació Digital and El País newspapers, and confirmed by the Catalan News Agency, asks for compensation for all three and considers their detention and imprisonment to be a violation of fundamental rights, especially freedom of speech.

Jordi Sanchez (right), and Jordi Cuixart, wave as they arrive at the High Court in Madrid on 16 October 2017. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP)

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Sànchez, Cuixart and Junqueras were the first jailed leaders to take their cases to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, with other incarcerated officials later joining the request – thus the UN group, dependent on the UN Human Rights Council, has so far only issued statements on Sànchez, Cuixart and Junqueras.

ALSO READ: Jordi Sànchez: ‘Nothing we’ve seen in our trial justifies prison’

Former other Catalan ministers Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull, Raül Romeva and Dolors Bassa, also behind bars whilst defendants in the Catalan Trial, also took their cases to the same UN group in July 2018.

Their defence in this international cause is led by lawyer Ben Emmerson, specialising in human rights and international criminal law. Throughout his career, he has appeared before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the International Criminal Court in the Hague and the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.


Here are the main points of the institution’s 19-page report to understand why the UN objects to Jordi Cuixart, Jordi Sànchez and Oriol Junqueras being kept in preventive detention:

1. Against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The report states that their imprisonment is ‘arbitrary’ and goes ‘against articles 18 to 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’

These articles cover the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to equal access to public services in their country.

2. Attempt to suppress claims for self-determination

The paper also says that the working group ‘considers a detention arbitrary when this is aimed at suppressing political group members in order to silence their claims in favor of self-determination.’

‘The detention of Mr Cuixart, Mr Sànchez and Mr Junqueras was made at the expense of the principle of equality of human beings because it was motivated by their political opinions,’ the paper reads.

3. Jailed leaders ‘not violent’ and rebellion charges ‘disproportionate’

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also states that the jailed leaders’ actions around the September 20-21 demonstrations ‘were not violent and nor did they incite violence.’

‘To the contrary, they consisted of the peaceful exercise of the rights to opinion, expression, association, assembly and participation.’

Regarding this point, it says that Spain provided information on the case at the working group’s request, but it did not provide any evidence of violence.

In fact, the text reads that the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression showed concern over the arrests because ‘they are related to calls to demonstration and citizens’ participation made in regards to the referendum.’

The working group points out that in Spain rebellion charges require the use of violence, and therefore the rapporteur considered these charges to be ‘disproportionate.’

4. No fair trial, no impartial judges

The report also casts some doubts on the fairness of the trial against them that is now underway in Spain’s Supreme Court.

‘The Working Group considers that their right to be tried by a competent and impartial court was not observed,’ the text reads. Among the reasons it gives is that they are being tried in Madrid, and not in Catalonia, and it also refers to ‘pre-established ideas’ of the judges who have been in charge of their case, especially in Spain’s National Court, who, says the paper, said some facts of the independence case ‘were common knowledge and did not need to be proved.’

5. No presumption of innocence, political interference

According to the judges, there is no presumption of innocence in the cases of Cuixart, Sànchez and Junqueras.

‘The political interference in openly sentencing the accused before the verdict violates their presumption of innocence,’ it reads. ‘They constitute wrongful interference affecting the independence and impartiality of the court.’

As an example, it cites the former Spanish vice president Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría’s remarks welcoming’“beheading’ the leaders. The former home affairs minister called the prosecuted officials ‘imprudent, dangerous and rebellious.’

6. Deadline for Spain to take action: November 2019

The report by this group is non-binding, but its members state that they will follow the trial to make sure it’s a fair one, and that they will observe whether they are freed, whether they get compensation, and whether an investigation on their imprisonment is opened.

They urge the Spanish government to provide information on whether they have taken these steps within six months from May 27, which is when the report was sent to Spain’s permanent mission before the UN.



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