The former head of a United Nations body expects the European Court of Human Rights to rule against Spain in a string of legal appeals presented by Catalonia’s political prisoners. “You don’t imprison separatist politicians” said Mads Andenas, who presided over the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions from 2009 to 2015.

Andenas calls the sedition convictions for holding an independence  referendum in 2017 “an abuse of the judicial system,” which he deems as “clearly inappropriate in an European political system.” In an interview with the Catalan News Agency, Andenas criticizes Spain for ignoring repeated calls by the United Nations body demanding the release of the pro-independence leaders, including former government ministers and the speaker of the Catalan parliament.

“The Spanish state is in a group of countries which do not accept individual rulings by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, and those are countries which the Spanish state does not want to be associated with,” he said, anticipating that the Human Rights court will ultimately take the UN’s report into account. The consequences of Spain’s stance are far-reaching, Andenas says, and undermines the international system of human rights’ supervision. “It is very difficult to criticize Venezuela, Iran, China, or Russia when the Spanish government behaves this way,” he says.

With activist Jordi Cuixart and former minister Jordi Turull becoming the first two leaders to challenge their imprisonment in the Human Rights Court last week, Andenas is confident that the Strasbourg-based tribunal will eventually “censure” Spain. The ruling could also become a “turning point” in how the European Union dealt with the Catalan conflict, which EU leaders have long dismissed as Spain’s “internal matters,” Andenas says.

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