On Tuesday, 12 February 2019, the Catalan Referendum Case hase started before the Spanish Supreme Court. In this trial former Catalan ministers, pro-independence activists, and the former parliament speaker Oriol Junqueras, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Cuixart, Dolors Bassa, Carme Forcadell, Meritxell Borràs, Carles Mundó and Santi Vila are charged by the Public Prosecutor’s Office with the crimes of rebellion, sedition, disobedience and embezzlement of public funds, for which it has requested 177 years’ imprisonment.
Several ELDH lawyers have been observing this trial, that raises severe questions about the Spanish government’s understanding of democracy and the rule of law. Among the observers was the ELDH President Professor Bill Bowring (London).
Professor Bill Bowring, who is a member of the Executive Committee of the Bar Human Rights Committee, and who observed the Trial on 19 and 20 February 2019, said:
“I entirely agree with the assessment of the International Commission of Jurists that to charge these twelve accused, leading Catalan politicians and members of civil society, with such vague, broadly defined offences of rebellion and sedition, carrying lengthy terms of imprisonment, risks violation of the principle of legality, as well as amounting to an arbitrary and disproportionate interference with human rights, especially freedom of expression and freedom of assembly (Article 10 and 11 ECHR). The use of violence by the accused is an essential ingredient of the offence of rebellion under Article 472 of the Spanish Criminal Code. It is therefore especially shocking, that while the referendum on 1 October 2017 was planned as an entirely non-violent expression of a widely held desire for independence as an exercise of the right to self-determination of the Catalan people in international law, the allegation against the accused is that they should have foreseen the perpetration of egregious violence by the Spanish police, and are thus responsible for it. The hearings I observed were conducted correctly by the seven judges of the Supreme Court, but it is disturbing that Spanish law permits three simultaneous prosecutions, by the Public Prosecution Ministry, by the Solicitor General of the State, and by VOX, the recently established far-right political party. This, together with the nature of the allegations, tends to undermine the right of the accused to a fair trial (Article 6 ECHR). Finally, holding the accused in custody for such a long period may amount to a violation of the right to personal liberty (Article 5 ECHR).”