Monday

8th Mar 2021

Opinion

Catalonia shows dangers of jail terms for non-violence

  • While the security forces used disproportionate force against non-violent Catalan protesters, those protesters remained non-violent in their actions (Photo: Assemblea.cat)

Catalonia has been marked by street violence ever since the judgment and sentencing of the nine leaders of Catalan independence movement earlier this week.

This has been grimly predictable in light of the Spanish government's overbearing criminal justice response to the non-violent self-determination movement in Catalonia.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

As I have written in these pages, the Spanish government's response to the events surrounding the 1 October 2017 independence referendum have threatened the good functioning of EU law, violated the fundamental rights of Catalan people, not least the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to a fair trial, and have inflamed a situation that could have and should have been dealt with through dialogue and negotiation.

Since the referendum, international observers have consistently raised alarm about what has been happening in Spain, cautioning against the approach taken by the government.

In October 2017, five UN independent experts and special rapporteurs called for political dialogue to defuse the tensions in Catalonia.

In April 2018, another, the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, urged Spain not to pursue criminal charges, expressing concern that doing so would be disproportionate and a violation of freedom of expression.

In December 2018, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders expressed concern regarding "excessive force, particularly through the use of anti-riot equipment and rubber bullets against largely peaceful protesters" and regarding the fact that "defenders of the right to self-determination... have faced increasing restrictions on their activities".

In January 2019, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted claims of an increased number of incidents of racism and hate speech directed towards the Catalan people as a result of the events of 2017.

Worse still, in May 2019, in two decisions related to those recently sentenced, the UN working group on arbitrary detention adjudged Spain to have violated the rights to a fair trial and to have arbitrarily detained the independence movement leaders.

It found that Spain had acted with the intent to, in the words of the vice president of Spain under the Rajoy government, "decapitate" the Catalan political leadership.

As all of these international authorities have noted, the events surrounding the October 2017 referendum were truly non-violent.

While the security forces used disproportionate force against non-violent Catalan protesters, those protesters remained non-violent in their actions.

A large part of this can be attributed to the zealous commitment to non-violence of the Catalan independence movement leadership.

Throughout October 2017, these leaders were seen talking with protesters, guaranteeing peaceful and non-violent events.

Now these leaders are imprisoned, convicted and sentence to lengthy sentences.

Behind bars, they continue to call for non-violence and to ask the crowds in Catalonia stay calm and true to the non-violent principles that underpin the movement.

But, unlike in October 2017, they are not there amongst the protesters.

From behind bars, their voices have been muted by a government determined to crack down harshly on independentist beliefs and by a European Union that is steadfastly refusing to do anything about the situation in Spain, in-spite of clear condemnation of Spain's actions internationally and even as it moves towards sanctioning the governments of Hungary and Poland for their attacks on independent institutions and civil society.

All of this was both predictable and predicted.

Time and again, across the world, efforts to "decapitate" non-violent movements, and refusals to engage in political dialogue with them, have led to situations like we are seeing today in Catalonia.

As many international observers warned the Spanish government's criminal justice approach to the independence referendum has incited violence.

In doing so, the Spanish government has failed in its most basic duties to its citizens.

It is within the powers of the Spanish government to pardon and free the Catalan nine. It needs to do so and to open a dialogue with the Catalan people to heal the rifts that are forming in Spain.

The European Union can no longer look on blindly and must encourage this.

Author bio

Ralph Bunche is the general secretary of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, an international association of nations and peoples denied equal representation in the institutions of national or international governance. Previously he was the European regional director for Fair Trials, the global criminal justice watchdog, and ran the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's largest trial monitoring programme.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

High tension in Catalonia two years after referendum

Two years after the former government of Carles Puigdemont held a unilateral independence referendum in defiance of the Spanish courts and constitution, the political and social conflict in Catalonia is still a key issue for both Spain and Europe.

Nine Catalan separatist leaders given long jail terms

Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition and misuse of public funds over their role in Catalonia's 2017 bid for independence. The possible legal immunity of some MEPs remains unanswered.

Two lessons worth learning from the Catalan elections

The stubborn fact is that, election after election - and it's already three consecutive absolute majorities - anti-independence forces cannot convince the majority of Catalans that our democratic rights and a better future can be attained within the Spanish kingdom.

Belarusian spring: finding hope in dark times

These are dark times in Belarus, with the government tightening the screws like never before. They are preparing for spring just as much as the opponents of the regime are.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Frontex's 'serious incident reports' - revealed
  2. Women hit 'disproportionately' hard by Covid-19, report finds
  3. EU 'Future' Conference plus Covid recovery talks This WEEK
  4. Covid-19 recovery: How to miss the target even with a bazooka
  5. Who cares? Precarious situation facing 21st century heroines
  6. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  7. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  8. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us