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Jailed Catalan leaders take their cases to the United Nations

British lawyer Ben Emmerson will aid the defense teams of Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart 


01 February 2018 01:21 PM


ACN | Barcelona

Three Catalan leaders imprisoned in Madrid for pursuing independence will bring their cases to the United Nations (UN), in an attempt to raise international awareness of the prosecution of pro-independence politicians by the Spanish justice. Their defense will be aided by British lawyer Ben Emmerson.

Vice president Oriol Junqueras, MP Jordi Sànchez, and grassroots activist Jordi Cuixart face charges of rebellion for their role in Catalonia’s push for independence, which led to a declaration of independence last October, subsequently immediately suspended by Spain. Junqueras has been jailed since November 2 last year, while Sànchez and Cuixart have been behind bars since October 16.

According to Emmerson and his team, the preemptive imprisonment of the Catalan leaders is a “classic case of arbitrary political detention.” Emmerson said the charges “brought against them are unsustainable” because “there was no element of violence in the allegations” against them. “The charges are purely political,” he stated.

  • “[We seek] the UN’s reaffirmation that governments cannot repress political dissent through arbitrary detention of opponents”

    Ben Emmerson · Human Rights lawyer

The move was announced at a press conference in London on Thursday, organized by Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly, two civil society organization led by Cuixart and Sànchez at the time of their imprisonment.

Emmerson is a lawyer specializing in human rights and international criminal law. Throughout his career, he has appeared before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the International Criminal Court in the Hague and the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The pro-independence leaders are bringing their case to the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a panel which has addressed proceedings involving prominent figures such as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, but whose rulings are nevertheless not binding.

According to Emmerson, the move seeks “the UN’s reaffirmation that governments cannot repress political dissent through arbitrary detention of opponents.”

“Spain must release these men,” he said. “Their imprisonment by Spain clearly falls foul of international law, and we ask the UN to make that declaration.”

28 under investigation

There are currently 28 key figures in the Catalan independence movement facing charges of rebellion in cases at the Spanish Supreme Court. Apart from Junqueras, Sànchez and Cuixart—and the Catalan Home Affairs minister Joaquim Forn, also in jail—those under investigation include Carles Puigdemont, whose reinstatement as Catalan president was postponed this past week.

In total, 12 people have been held behind bars at some point during the investigation. While most were eventually released on bail, four Catalan leaders are still imprisoned in Madrid.


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  • Lawyers Jessica Jones, Ben Emmerson and Rachel Lindon at a press conference in London on February 1 (by Pol Solà)