The conviction today of Catalan separatist leaders of broadly defined offences of sedition unduly restricts rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association, the ICJ said today.
“These convictions represent a serious interference with the exercise of freedom of expression, association and assembly of the leaders. The resort to the law of sedition to restrict the exercise of these rights is unnecessary, disproportionate and ultimately unjustifiable” said Massimo Frigo, ICJ Europe and Central Asia Senior Legal Adviser.
The ICJ also stressed that the overly broad definition of the crime of sedition applied in this case creates a high risk of arbitrariness.
“We are concerned that the Supreme Court does not comply with Spain’s obligations under international human rights law in the consideration of the charges against these defendants and this seriously undermines these convictions,” he added.
Nine of the twelve leaders on trial – including high-ranking Catalan government officials –were convicted of sedition in connection with their part in the administration on 1 October 2017 of a referendum on Catalonian independence. The referendum was conducted despite having been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court.
The voting process during the referendum was forcibly suppressed in many locations by the police, with credible reports of the use of unnecessary and disproportionate force in breach of Spain’s international law obligations.
“Interference with peaceful political expression and protest is not acceptable, save in limited circumstances where it is strictly necessary and proportionate for compelling purposes such as national security .” Frigo said.
Massimo Frigo, Senior Legal Adviser, ICJ Europe Programme, t: +41 22 979 38 05 ; e: massimo.frigo(a)icj.org
The 12 people convicted in connection with the October 2017 referendum include Oriol Junqueras (13 years of imprisonment for sedition and abuse of power), former Catalan vice-president; Carme Forcadell, former Catalan parliament speaker (11 years and six months of imprisonment for sedition); eight former ministers in the Catalan government – Jordi Turull (12 years of imprisonment for sedition and abuse of power), Raül Romeva (12 years of imprisonment for sedition and abuse of power), Joaquim Forn (10 years and six months of imprisonment for sedition), Santiago Vila (10 months for disobedience), Meritxel Borràs (10 months for disobedience), Dolors Bassa (12 years of imprisonment for sedition and abuse of power), Josep Rull (10 years and six months of imprisonment for sedition), Carles Mundó (10 months for disobedience); Jordi Sànchez (9 years of imprisonment for sedition) the former leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC); and Jordi Cuixart (9 years of imprisonment for sedition), former head of the independence organisation Òmnium Cultural.
Spain has obligations to protect freedom of expression, including political expression, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and freedom of peaceful assembly and association under Article 11 ECHR and Article 21 and 22 ICCPR.
The Human Rights Committee in its General Comment on freedom of expression has affirmed that: “extreme care must be taken by States parties to ensure that treason laws and similar provisions relating to national security, whether described as official secrets or sedition laws or otherwise, are crafted and applied in a manner that conforms to the strict requirements of paragraph 3” of article 19 ICCPR, which requires that restrictions on freedom of expression be provided for by law and must be necessary for a legitimate purpose, such as national security or public order .) Rights to participate in public life are protected under Article 25 ICCPR.Multimedia itemsNewsPress releasesVideo clips