David Kaye, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, has issued a note urging the Spanish authorities to ensure that the measures adopted ahead of the referendum on October 1 “do not interfere with the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation”. The statement, which has also been signed by Alfred de Zayas (an independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order), says that “Spain must respect the fundamental rights in response to the Catalan referendum”.
In their statement both experts mention how Spain’s Constitutional Court has banned the referendum on independence but they add that “regardless of the lawfulness of the referendum, the Spanish authorities have a responsibility to respect those rights that are essential to democratic societies”. Kay and Zayas also refer to the hundreds of thousands of Catalans who have taken to the streets in protests and rising tension “with with the authorities searching print houses and seizing referendum material” and they go on to mention that websites have been blocked, political meetings stopped, officials arrested and the leaders of mass protests are facing sedition charges.
According to the strongly-worded note, published on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “the measures we are witnessing are worrying because they appear to violate fundamental individual rights, cutting off public information and the possibility of debate at a critical moment for Spain’s democracy”. The authors emphasise that last Thursday over four thousand Spanish police officers were deployed in Catalonia with orders “to act”, should Catalans go ahead with the referendum.
The experts claim to be “concerned that this order and the accompanying rhetoric may heighten tensions and social unrest”. That is why they urge all parties to “avoid violence of any kind to ensure peaceful protests in the coming days”.