UPDATE – 11 November 2019: The International Trial Watch, a platform bringing together lawyers from several countries to observe the Catalan Trial, published the assessment of the sentence: https://internationaltrialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/POSICIONAMIENTO_SENTENCIA_12112019-ingles-carta.pdf.

The report states:

“Due to all these reasons, international and national observers condemn the violation of human rights (civil and political rights listed and recognized by Treaties and Conventions dully signed by the Kingdom of Spain, which in turn are part of the national legal system under articles 10, 96 and other concordant articles of the Spanish Constitution), the violation of criminal and procedural principles mentioned, as well as the criminal law principles of fragmentation, proportionality and last resort, by the analysed criminal proceedings and its judgement.

The great violation of the abovementioned rights and principles caused by the judgement and the reasoning within it make it impossible to analyse this judgement from a strictly legal point of view. Any earnest attempt at interpreting the judgement based on technical and legal concepts, such as sedition, uprising, violence or fundamental right becomes unsuccessful. The reason is surely because it is a clearly ideological resolution aimed at replacing the political solution that is needed in the conflict in Catalonia.”

Support the statement here: https://internationaltrialwatch.org/en/judgement-and-reactions/support/.

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UPDATE – 16 October 2019: Beyond the complexity and the political character of the events in Catalonia over the last two years – which are interpreted differently at the local, national and international level- a number of worrying developments regarding the freedom of assembly, association and expression have been reported to us, because our mission is to alert and informed about threats to civic space and reactions of civic actors.

On 14 October 2019, the Supreme Court of Spain decided to condemn to prison terms ranging from 9 to 13 years nine of the twelve accused of the organised actions linked to the Independence of Catalonia between September and October 2017. They were found guilty of sedition and some of them also with misuse of public funds.

Out of the nine, two presidents of Catalan associations, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, are charged with nine years of prison time. In 2017, they had called for peacefully protesting against the sentence of the court finding the referendum on the Catal independence illegal. They have already served nearly two years of pre-trial detention, severe deprivation of liberties.

Several national and international observers have also pointed out to what they consider as a number of irregularities in the process that lead to suspects of politicisation of the trial. See the reports:

Over 150 Catal civil society organisations have signed a manifesto rejecting the sentence. They stated that the sentence will have “serious consequences on the political rights of the citizens and the rights of manifestation, expression, free association and political dissent, supposing a retreat for the democratic quality of our society.

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(Amnesty International – 26 October 2018) On 16 October, a judge of the Audiencia Nacional ordered the pre-trial detention of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the presidents, respectively, of the pro-Catalan independence organisations the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural. They have been charged with sedition under article 544 of the Spanish Criminal Code in connection with protests they organized in Barcelona on 20 and 21 September.

The protests opposed and sought to obstruct an operation conducted by law enforcement and judicial authorities in several governmental buildings to prevent the organization of the referendum on the independence of Catalonia on 1 October. The police and judicial operation conducted on 20 and 21 September was based on a judicial order issued by a court in Barcelona and involved the searches of several official governmental buildings. On 7 September, the Constitutional Court had ruled that the referendum was illegal and against the Spanish Constitution. Amnesty International does not challenge the ruling of the Constitutional Court and its implementation.

However, the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly cover the possibility for individuals and civil society organizations to express their opinions about the referendum, and independence more generally, at any time, whether individually or collectively, including in the context of public assemblies. Under international human rights law, Spanish authorities must protect the rights of private individuals to express their opposition to the Constitutional Court ruling and to organize peaceful public assemblies in favour of the referendum. However, international human rights law also permits states to impose some restrictions on the exercise of those rights for certain legitimate aims, such as protecting public order or national security, provided that the restriction is both demonstrably necessary and proportionate to the objective it pursues.

In the decision to impose pre-trial detention, the judge of the Audiencia Nacional argued that Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart did not simply call for a peaceful assembly, but acted on the basis of a complex strategy and a roadmap to obtain the independence of Catalonia. It would appear from the messages they posted on social media as well as some of their statements during the events that Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart summoned protestors to gather in front of governmental buildings with the intention of obstructing a lawful police operation. It appears that they did not call on protesters to use violence and that the sporadic violent acts committed by protesters, for example the damage of a few police cars, cannot be ascribed directly or indirectly to them as organizers of the protests.

Restrictions on the rights of freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly of those seeking to obstruct a legitimate law enforcement operation, even if they do so without the resort to violence, can be justified as necessary to protect public order. However, under international law, restrictions on expression “must be the least intrusive instrument amongst those which might achieve their protective function.” This requirement of proportionality means that criminal sanctions, in particular those resulting in the deprivation of liberty, will often constitute a disproportionate restriction on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart have been charged with an offence punishable with 8-10 years’ imprisonment and remanded in custody. While summoning protestors with the purpose of obstructing a lawful police operation may be punished as a minor public order offence, the prosecution of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart for a serious crime such as sedition and their detention on remand constitute excessive restrictions of their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.

Amnesty International calls on Spanish authorities to drop the charges of sedition, which is very broadly defined to cover a wide range of acts, and could carry a penalty of 10 years in jail, against Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart and to put an immediate end to their pre-trial detention.

 

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