Published On: Thu, Sep 28th, 2017

'Do not interfere with freedom' UN condemns Spain's violent crackdown on Catalan voters

Experts from the UN have called on Madrid to ensure measures taken ahead of the Catalan referendum this Sunday “do not interfere with the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation”.

Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled at the beginning of this month the referendum, which could split Spain in two, would be unconstitutional.

However the Catalan government is pushing ahead with the vote and its president, Carles Puigdemont, has said he will even go to prison to give his people the vote.

UN experts David Kaye, special rapporteur on the protection of the right to freedom of expression, and Alfred de Zayas, independent expert on the promotion of democratic and equitable international order, have warned the Spanish authorities need to respect their freedom of expression despite the court’s ruling.

Since the ruling hundreds of thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets in day protests.

The UN experts, said: “Regardless of the lawfulness of the referendum, the Spanish authorities have a responsibility to respect those rights that are essential to democratic societies.

“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.”

Earlier this week Spanish authorities threatened referendum organisers with arrest and have ordered police to patrol polling stations in a bid to stop the vote. 

Authorities have searched print houses and seized referendum material, including ballot boxes and papers.

Politicians have been arrested and leaders of the mass protests charged with sedition, a crime which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment.

Last Thursday more than 4,000 police officers were deployed to the autonomous region, with an order from the Government to “act in case the illegal referendum takes place”.

Mr Kaye and Mr de Zayas, said: “We are concerned that this order and the accompanying rhetoric may heighten tensions and social unrest.

“We urge all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and avoid violence of any kind to ensure peaceful protests in the coming days.”

Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s representative in Barcelona, said he would “keep hoping until the last minute that the Catalan government has a change of heart and calls off the referendum”.

Last week Spain’s state police raided Catalan government offices, arrested senior officials and seized ballot boxes, papers and other electoral material.

Despite this, the Catalan government has promised to go ahead with the independence referendum it says is binding.

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