Spain must respect fundamental rights in response to Catalan referendum, say UN experts
They call for "restraint" in the coming days in order to avoid violence and "ensure peaceful protests"
UN experts have urged the Spanish government to respect fundamental rights in its response to the October 1 Catalan referendum on independence. In a press release published on Thursday, experts called on Spanish authorities to not interfere with freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation.
"Regardless of the lawfulness of the referendum, the Spanish authorities have a responsibility to respect those rights that are essential to democratic societies," the experts said.
According to them, the measures seen in Catalonia to crack down on the referendum "are worrying because they appear to violate fundamental rights." In particular, they mentioned that authorities have searched print houses and seized referendum material, arrested politicians and charged leaders of mass protests with "sedition." "Websites have been blocked, and political meetings stopped," they added.
The experts warned that the measures are "cutting off public information and the possibility of a debate at a critical moment for Spain's democracy." For them, the fact that more than 4,000 police officers were deployed in Catalonia on orders to "act in case the illegal referendum takes place" is concerning. "This order and the accompanying rhetoric may heighten tensions and social unrest," they said.
"We urge all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and avoid violence of any kind to ensure peaceful protests in the coming days," the experts concluded. The UN experts who signed the press release are David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Alfred de Zayas, independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.