On Wednesday Amnesty International made a new call for the release of Òmnium Cultural president Jordi Cuixart and the former Catalan National Assembly leader, Jordi Sànchez, two of the political prisoners convicted over the 2017 failed independence bid. This time AI has published a report arguing that, since Spain’s Constitutional Court has agreed to hear the appeals lodged by the two Catalan leaders and, therefore, it will be reviewing the ruling in their case, both grassroots leaders should be freed now.
On this occasion it is worth noting who has been sent a copy of AI’s report: the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Constitutional Court, the Attorney General, the private plaintiff —Vox— and the prisoners’ defence teams. Two conclusions can be drawn from the document. Firstly, it calls out the Supreme Court’s ruling of 14 October 2019 as a violation of Cuixart and Sànchez’s freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly. Secondly, it highlights the underlying problem of “the vagueness” with which the crime of sedition is characterised in Spain’s criminal code and demands its review. AI believes that the Supreme Court made “an extensive interpretation” of the offence that led to the “criminalisation” of “civil disobedience” actions and “obstructive protests”. The report concludes that “the nine-year prison penalty imposed on them for a count of sedition constitutes an unlawful restriction of their right to peaceful assembly”.
The human rights group warns that the sentence that Sànchez and Cuixart are serving paves the way for “further criminalisation of actions directly connected with freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” in the future. In the light of all this, AI demands that both prisoners are released from jail, the verdict is reversed and the criminal code is reviewed.
Amnesty International argues that their report is of a “technical” nature and it is based on “international law”. They believe that the case of Sànchez and Cuixart is a violation of Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 11.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. AI is hopeful that the ruling will be reviewed, now that the case will be seen by Spain’s Constitutional Court, a tribunal whose jurisprudence states that “the limits of basic rights must be interpreted either according to restrictive criteria or in the sense that is most favourable to the efficacy and essence of said rights”. In other words, the exact opposite of what the Supreme Court did, according to AI.
AI’s director for Spain, Esteban Beltrán, argued that “the crime of sedition must be reviewed to ensure that it leaves no room for unlawful convictions” and the coordinator for Catalonia, Adriana Ribas, stated that they are working so that the Spanish parliament will take steps to that effect. Incidentally, this is a point which the PSOE had agreed to consider following their parliamentary agreement with Podemos and ERC to get PM Pedro Sánchez reelected. Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart have both welcomed AI’s report on social media. Jordi Sànchez, the leader of la Crida, remarked that the report shows their conviction is “legally baseless” and Jordi Cuixart wrote that it is “a violation of international law”. Òmnium Cultural released a statement urging Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez to “take steps” to ensure that the Public Prosecutor and the State Attorney ask for the immediate release of all the political prisoners.
On 19 November 2019 AI slammed the Supreme Court’s ruling by saying that it was inadequate, even if the trial hadn’t been “unjust”. Back then —as well as in Wednesday’s report— AI’s demands zeroed in on Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart and made no mention of the other political prisoners.