According to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the pre-trial detention of Quim Forn, Raül Romeva, Josep Rull and Dolors Bassa is “arbitrary”. The Catalan News Agency reports that the UN Group has called on the Spanish government to take any steps necessary to resolve the prisoners’ situation “without delay” and has called for their “immediate” release.
Furthermore, the Group has asked for the prisoners to be “effectively” awarded a compensation payment, as well as any other damages they may be entitled to. In addition, they ask that punitive measures are brought “against those responsible for the violation of the prisoners’ rights”. This UN Working Group —whose judgements are not legally binding— had already published a similarly damning report on the case of Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart. The Group believes that Forn, Rull, Romeva and Bassa were arrested for “exercising their rights to freedom of conscience, opinion, expression, association, assembly and political opinion”, thus contravening several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The report also concludes that the defendants’ presumption of innocence has been infringed upon.
The Group’s judgement argues that the arrests of Forn, Rull, Romeva and Bassa at the start of the criminal proceedings “was uncalled for, once you take into consideration the political upheaval during which the charges were pressed”. Furthermore, it questions the indictments by the Spanish Supreme Court and states that the actions by Forn, Rull, Romeva and Bassa prior to and following 20-21 September 2017 “were neither violent, nor sought to incite violence”.
The experts emphasise that an element of violence is “essential” to provide a legal base for the charges of sedition and rebellion. In contrast, the Catalan leaders “merely exercised their rights and freedoms” under the protection of international law. What’s more, the Group claims to be “unconvinced” that other actions taken by the defendants with a view to holding the referendum on October 1 2017 may be regarded as “criminal”.
For instance, the UN Group believes that “in the absence of the violence element” and other “unlawful” actions, the indictments and the trial “are an attempt to coerce the prisoners due to their views and political manifestations on the subject of independence”. The document also mentions the fact that Forn offered to end his political career if that helped to secure his release, while Bassa gave up her seat in parliament. The experts conclude that all four prisoners have been “pressured so they will refrain from pursuing their goals by political means”.
The experts’ opinion, which was drafted while the trial against the independence leaders was still in progress, also criticises the fact that the case was not seen by a court of law in Catalonia. The experts argue that the matter falls within the territorial, personal and material jurisdiction of Catalan justice “as the alleged crimes were committed in Catalonia by Catalan government officials and lawmakers”.
In their seventeen-page long document, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also includes a number of ideas which the initial opinion on the case of Junqueras, Sànchez and Cuixart had already mentioned. For instance, they refer to the decision by the court of Schleswig-Holstein on the case of the European arrest warrant issued against Carles Puigdemont. They also quote then-vice president of Spain Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, who spoke about “decapitating” the Catalan secessionist movement.