Council of Europe urges Spain to sanction ‘abusive use of force’ by police in Catalan protests

Human Rights Commissioner criticizes use of foam and rubber bullets, raising concerns over "numerous attacks against journalists"

Police have fired foam bullets at demonstrators and journalists alike (by Laura Busquets)
Police have fired foam bullets at demonstrators and journalists alike (by Laura Busquets) / Oliver Little

Oliver Little | Barcelona

October 22, 2019 11:25 AM

The Council of Europe has expressed its concern regarding the ''disproportionate use of force and inappropriate use of anti-riot weapons by police on demonstrators during last week's protests'' during the past week in Catalonia.

Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović has cited the ''misuse of rubber and foam bullets,'' which have led to four known serious eye injuries during the demonstrations in response to the verdict of the Catalan Trial, issued on October 14.

Mitjatović has therefore urged that ''Spanish authorities reconsider the use of these weapons in operations aimed at managing public demonstrations,'' and that they must ''investigate and adequately sanction all reported instances of abusive use of force by law enforcement officials.''

This letter mirrors that of her predecessor, Nils Muižnieks, who in 2017 wrote a letter to Interior Minister of Spain at the time Juan Ignacio Zoido raising his concerns over disproportionate use of force by police during the crackdown of the independence referendum for which 9 leaders were now sentenced to prison terms of between 9 and 13 years.

Furthermore, current commissioner Mijatović has urged for the ''protection of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,'' after nearly 65 journalists were injured over the course of last week.

She voiced her concern regarding ''attacks carried out by demonstrators'' but also ''violent behavior at the hands of police officers,'' which has involved beatings, broken equipment and even being shot at with foam bullets. 

The council remarked that there is ''growing insecurity for journalists reporting on the situation in Catalonia in recent months.'' They have called on Spanish authorities to act by ''investigating all reported cases of attacks against journalists, whether they were carried out by police officers or demonstrators'' and to take measures to ''guarantee the safety of all journalists during demonstrations.''

Joint statement from reporters after week of attacks on journalists

Journalists in Catalonia have also released a statement, entitled ''without journalism there is not democracy,'' addressing the attacks during last week's demonstrations in Catalonia.

The statement warns citizens that it is a ''violation of their is the deterioration of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Every time someone blocks the work of a journalist they are going against the system of democracy.''