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European court rejects Catalan secession leaders’ claims of rights violations

The ECHR finds that Spanish judges acted legally in suspending a regional parliamentary session where a unilateral declaration of independence was to be made

Headquarters of the European Court of Human Rights.
Headquarters of the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has unanimously rejected a case brought by 76 Catalan separatist politicians alleging violations of their freedom of expression and assembly in connection with the 2017 secession attempt.

The Strasbourg-based tribunal said that the Spanish Constitutional Court’s suspension of a plenary session of the Catalan parliament scheduled for October 9, 2017 “pursued legitimate goals” such as “maintaining public safety, defending public order and protecting the rights and freedoms of others.”

Adverse decisions

This is not the first time that the ECHR supports the Spanish Constitutional Court’s actions in connection with the Catalan secession bid. In October of last year, the Strasbourg tribunal backed the decision to apply a €6,000 sanction against a member of the now-defunct Sindicatura Electoral, an ad hoc body created to oversee the banned independence referendum of October 1, 2017.

And earlier this year former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, who is also on trial at the Supreme Court, filed a complaint against her situation of preventive prison, but a ECHR judge rejected the case in March, said court sources.

Former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont had been planning to declare unilateral independence at that session after holding an illegal referendum on October 1. He fled Spain soon afterwards to avoid being arrested and prosecuted for rebellion like other secessionist leaders who are currently on trial at the Supreme Court in Madrid.

The human rights violation case, which was considered “inadmissible” by the ECHR, was brought, among others, by former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell and by Puigdemont himself.

Acting Foreign Minister Josep Borell has underscored the relevance of this judicial decision. “It refutes all the arguments put forward by the Catalan independence movement about curtailing their freedom of expression and the working of the Catalan parliament,” he said.

In a detailed decision, the ECHR rejected each one of the claims made by the plaintiffs, all members of the separatist parties Junts pel Sí (Together for Catalonia) and the anti-capitalist party CUP. The legal action had been brought before the court on October 11, 2017 by Andreu Van den Eynde, the lawyer currently representing ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras at the Supreme Court trial.

Same charges

Reyes Rincón

Prosecutors are planning to uphold their charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds against the secessionist leaders on trial at the Supreme Court. After nearly four months of hearings, sources at the public prosecution said that there is no reason to modify the accusations because all the evidence presented in court so far confirms them. The court wants to bring the case to an end soon, and has scheduled hearings next week so the defense and prosecution can present their final reports.

The seven-judge panel said that the Spanish Constitutional Court’s decision was made to uphold the law and could be reasonably considered “necessary in a democratic society.” The plans for a session to declare independence were based on a regional law tailor-made to facilitate secession, and which had been suspended by the Constitutional Court on September 7, “rendering this law temporarily inapplicable.” Thus, “the decision by the governing body of the autonomous parliament to authorize a plenary session represented a manifest lack of respect for the decisions of the Constitutional Court aimed at protecting the constitutional order.”

The plenary session was suspended on October 5 after 16 deputies for the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) made this request, arguing a situation of “exceptional urgency” that could affect “the application and general efficiency of the Constitution” and have “overall political consequences.”

Separatist lawmakers then turned to the ECHR, alleging violations of their freedom of expression and association.

English version by Susana Urra.

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