MEPs protest incarceration of civil society leaders in front of European Parliament
European politicians spoke out against Spain’s disregard for “democracy and human rights”
Nearly 20 MEPs from several countries and various political groups protested protest against the incarceration of the leaders of the grassroots pro-independence movement in Catalonia. Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, from the Catalan National Assembly (ACN) and Òmnium Cultural respectively, are being held in prison in Madrid while they are investigated for sedition.
The MEPs gathered in front of the main entrance of the European Parliament in Brussels in solemn demonstration, demanding the release of Sànchez and Cuixart. The protesters stood holding posters with the images of the two civil society leaders, and the message “Freedom for Catalan Political prisoners.”
Among the European Parliament members present were politicians from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), and the Greens/EFA and the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE / NGL).Followers of the ANC civil society organization also gathered in Brussels, holding posters and even the Catalan independence flag, the estelada.
“In conflict with the basics of democracy”
Slovenian MEP and former Foreign Minister Ivo Vajgl (ALDE) stated that he believes the government in Madrid “is making one mistake after another” and is in “conflict with the basics of democracy.”
“If in any country in the world someone imprisoned the leaders of peaceful demonstrations, we would scream that human rights were being violated,” he stated. “The same applies to Spain,” the Former Minister added.
According to Vajgl, imprisonment “is a very, very wrong way [to react]. Instead of accepting the offer of open and fair dialogue, the [Spanish] government makes use of repression and thinks of more repressive measures,” the MEP said. The Slovenian politician considers that "it is not only a Spanish problem,” but “an increasing problem in European democracy.”
“If in any country in the world someone imprisoned the leaders of peaceful demonstrations, we would scream that human rights were being violated”
Ivo Vajgl · MEP and Former Slovenian Minister
Crossing “a new red line”
Flemish MEP Mark Demesmaeker (ECR), also attending the protest, said that Spain crossed a “new red line” by incarcerating Sànchez and Cuixart. “Having a political opinion, and expressing that opinion, organizing demonstrations…that can never be a criminal act.”
“You can expect this to happen in Turkey or Russia, but not in the European Union,” Demesmaeker noted, adding that “Spain is not respecting democracy and human rights.” He recalled that he “witnessed the violence” himself on October 1, the of the independence referendum, noting that this is a “slippery slope” for Spain. “The European Commission is silent,” the MEP ended, saying that he is “very disappointed, and angry.”
Away from escalation and towards a calm dialogue
President of the European United Left / Nordic Green Left, MEP Gabriele Zimmer, explained that she is not “happy” with the incarceration of the civil society leaders, as she thinks the government in Madrid and the State institutions “should avoid anything that could escalate the situation.”
“Now we have a very complicated situation between Catalonia and the Spanish government, and we must calm the situation down,” she adds. “We are calling on Madrid,” she states, “to find a way for a political solution” and “to start a dialogue” with Catalonia.
Zimmer points to the protests on the night of Monday, October 16 demanding the release of Sànchez and Cuixart as confirmation that “people understand the situation is escalating.” The MEP insists, further: “We don’t need escalation.”
The freedom of expression and the right to protest
MEPs from Catalonia itself also stood in solidarity. ERC MEPs Jordi Solé and Josep Maria Terricabras, Ramon Tremosa from PDeCAT and Ernest Urtasun from ICV were present.
Josep Maria Terricabras said that detaining Sànchez and Cuixart is “a terrible attack” on freedom of expression and the right to protest. In addition, the politician indicates that in Europe “everything is known” and that if the European institutions react “little” and “slowly” to events, it is because “they are defending the [member] States.”
Jordi Solé indicates that it’s a “disgrace” to have “political prisoners” in 2017. “I never thought that during my life as a citizen with full rights, I would see this situation,” he stated. Solé pointed out that both Sánchez and Cuixart have been jailed for what they “think and defend.” He added that “Mr. Rajoy is a discomfort for Europe, even though leaders don’t dare express it.”
Ramon Tremosa is “happy” with reactions from MEPs regarding the holding of Sánchez and Cuixart. However, he explains that “he expects” the European Union to stop having a speech “held ransom by some big capitals” and to “defend” European values such as freedom and democracy. “I hope that Europe will live up to the European values it must defend,” he adds.