Amnesty International has issued a report setting off alarm bells after analyzing the sentencing of Catalan independence leaders in Spain, which the human rights watchdog warns could have “a chilling effect” and create a “climate of fear,” dissuading peaceful protests. In an interview with Catalan News, Daniel Joloy, Senior Policy Advisor at Amnesty and co-author of the report, states that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the crime of sedition for which the nine jailed leaders were convicted “opens the door for the criminalization of a whole range of direct action, mainly peaceful disobedience.”

– What’s your assessment of Spain’s sentencing of Catalan leaders?

Amnesty is very concerned about the definition of sedition in the criminal code, and the much expanded and general interpretation made by the Spanish Supreme Court, for two main reasons: firstly, the definition makes the use of force and action outside of legal avenues the same. That opens the door for the criminalization of a whole range of direct action, mainly peaceful civil disobedience.

It criminalizes the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Secondly, the definition of the crime also requires it be tumultuous, and the way in which the Supreme Court interprets this is that because there were so many people in the streets protesting, then the crime of sedition was taking place, and this is again a problem because it’s setting a limit on how many people can exercise the right to peaceful assembly at the same time, which is contrary to international human rights law.

– What could the consequences of the ruling be?

Amnesty is very concerned about the chilling effect that this ruling can have. It can create a general climate of fear in which people prefer not to go outside and protest peacefully because they are afraid of then being sentenced and convicted for such a serious crime as sedition.

– What should the authorities do?

We are urging the Spanish authorities to immediately release Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart because they have been in prison solely for exercising human rights. We’re also asking the authorities to reform the crime of sedition because this is opening the door to the further criminalization of acts of protest. We’re also asking the authorities to open up avenues for Catalan leaders to channel the violation of their right to the principle of legality in court.

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