26th November 2022
Oriol Junqueras 'political prisoner'
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UN human rights committee says Spain at fault for suspension of Catalan MPs

Independent human rights experts working with the United Nations have said that Spain violated the political rights of members of the Catalan government and parliament by stripping them of their duties prior to any conviction, following the illegal independence referendum held in Catalonia five years ago.

The Human Rights Committee, a group of 18 experts, released a statement on Wednesday following a complaint by four of the Catalan leaders (Oriol Junqueras, Raül Romeva, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull) who were prosecuted and sentenced in Spain over their roles in the October 2017 referendum and its turbulent aftermath.

In October 2017 the Catalan government led by Carles Puigdemont staged a referendum banned by Madrid (with Mariano Rajoy Prime Minister at the time) and then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Nine Catalan politicians and activists were eventually jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of funds – with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following the pardons granted by the current PSOEPodemos coalition government led by Pedro Sánchez.

After the court had ruled that the referendum was illegal, the four officials had originally been prosecuted for the crime of rebellion and stripped of their governmental functions.

Two years later, however, the charges were downgraded to sedition — which doesn’t include the element of violence that is part of the crime of rebellion.

Taking note that the four complainants had urged the public to remain strictly peaceful, the UN Committee considered that the decision to charge them with the crime of rebellion, which led to their automatic suspension prior to a conviction, was not foreseeable and therefore not based on reasonable and objective grounds provided for by law.

‘The decision to suspend elected officials should rely on clear and foreseeable laws which establish reasonable and objective grounds for the restriction of the political rights, and must be applied based on an individualized assessment. Such an approach and safeguards are the best way to ensure respect for institutions and to promote the rule of law in a democratic society,’ the statement read.

Twelve people were convicted but only nine received jail sentences. The nine who were pardoned in 2021 remain barred from holding office.

The two pro-Catalan independence parties which most of the 12 belonged to celebrated the decision on Wednesday.

Spain ‘must cease its repressive policies and cannot continue using the law and penal processes to confront the peaceful demand for the right to self-determination’ the Esquerra Republicana (ERC) party and Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) said in a joint statement.

There was no immediate reaction from the Spanish government. Spain has repeatedly said that a self-determination referendum is a breach of the country’s constitution.

The committee, which works with the UN human rights office, works to help make sure that the 173 countries that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including Spain, honour and uphold its requirements.

Click here for all our reports related to Catalan independence. 

Oriol Junqueras 'political prisoner'
Former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras (centre) sits with fellow former Catalan leaders during their trial at the Supreme Court in Madrid on 12 February 2019. (J.J.Guillén / AFP)

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