The United States includes references to Catalan political prisoners in its report on the state of human rights in the world

It echoes, among others, UN Arbitrary Detention Group and Amnesty International's request for them to be freed

Cesc Maideu
3 min
The prisoners of Almeces in an act before entering the prison by the appeal of the Prosecutor's Office against the third degree, on March 9.

BarcelonaCatalan political prisoners have also reached the White House, at least as far as the report on the situation of human rights in the world that the US State Department published this Tuesday. Without taking a position at any time, the US administration collects all the times that supranational organisations have condemned the situation of political prisoners and have called for their freedom. Specifically, the White House dedicates a section of the report specifically to "political prisoners and detainees", where it recalls that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the release of "seven of the nine pro-independence Catalan prisoners" for their role in "the referendum" of October 1, 2017. These events date back to July 2019, when the group called the pre-trial detention of Oriol Junqueras, Quim Forn, Raül Romeva, Josep Rull, Dolors Bassa, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart "arbitrary" and called for their "immediate release". Then there was still no sentence and all were in custody (Carme Forcadell and Jordi Turull did not ask for a position on their situation).

The US administration has not ignored the recommendations of the working group, nor the opinion of the UN special rapporteur on minorities, Fernand de Varennes, who according to the US State Department "agreed with the conclusions of the working group" and noted "that the prolonged detentions and subsequent sentences were intimidation for their political opinions". A position similar to that of Amnesty International - and so recalled by the White House - which on 13 May criticised the Supreme Court's interpretation of sedition as "overly broad". As in the case of the working group, Amnesty International also called for the release of Sànchez and Cuixart. Even so, the report notes that no international NGO has described the former councillors as "political prisoners".

At the same time, the State Department notes that the UN rapporteur called on the Spanish government to fulfil "its legal obligations to protect the human rights of minorities, including the Catalan minority" because they are often "singled out as traitors". He even recalls the spying that the former Speaker, Roger Torrent, and the Republican deputy Ernest Maragall suffered on their mobile phones.

"Attacks" on press freedom

The situation of press freedom in Spain is of concern to the United States. In the report, they warn of "multiple" verbal attacks by the Spanish government and Vox "on certain media". Some of these "attacks" are from the president, Pedro Sánchez, when he accused the "conservative media of agitating society", or from the former second vice-president, Pablo Iglesias, when he claimed that the press critical of the government had "offended the dignity of journalism". In view of these facts, the US recalls that the Federation of Spanish Journalists' Associations and Reporters Without Borders condemned the statements made by the Podemos leader and pointed out that Catalonia has become "dangerous territory" for press freedom.

The harshness with which the report describes the state of fundamental rights has taken few hours to make its way to Spain. The first to speak has been the president of the PP, Pablo Casado, who through a publication on Twitter has asked for "urgent explanations" from the Spanish government.

A few minutes later came the explanations from the Spanish government, which far from admitting to any wrongdoing has linked the report to the outgoing administration of Donald Trump. "They are the last consequences of Trump," said the first vice president, Carmen Calvo, who has denied all accusations. According to her, no country can "allow itself the luxury of telling Spanish democracy how freedoms work." The foreign minister, Arancha Gonález Laya, followed the same line and recalled that in the Reporters Without Borders ranking on press freedom Spain is in 29th place and the USA in 45th.

Concern about corruption, but no mention of the PP

Apart from stressing that there has been mistreatment of inmates in Spanish prisons and that the fundamental rights of some refugees and immigrants have not been respected at the borders, the US State Department focuses on corruption in Spain. It defines it as "a problem in the country" and notes that there is a "significant accumulation" of cases. However, it only focuses on describing the Neurona case, which is investigating "key members of Podemos" for allegedly embezzling public funds. In contrast, it makes no reference to corruption cases affecting, for example, the PP.