The Catalan pro-independence activist Jordi Cuixart is the only jailed human rights defender in the EU mentioned in a Council of Europe report published on 24 March. The paper, written on the situation of human rights defenders in the countries that are members of the 47-state supranational institution, draws attention to the fact that Cuixart is “president of the Omnium Cultural association which was founded in 1961 under the Franco dictatorship.”

“Omnium Cultural is an association that promotes civil and cultural rights in Catalonia” reads the paper written by Alexandra Louis, general rapporteur for human rights defenders at the Council of Europe. The work details the fact that Cuixart spent two years in pre-trial detention before being convicted in October 2019 to nine years behind bars on sedition charges “following events related to the Catalan independence referendum of 1 October 2017.”

The report also explains that the activists’ lawyers express that he should not have been tried at Spain’s Supreme Court because the top magistrates have “jurisdiction to try elected officials and not civil society activists like him.” “According to the most recent information, Mr Cuixart’s detention conditions have worsened because of the Covid-19 pandemic and he is being held in isolation in his cell for 23 hours a day,” adds Louis.

Reprisals and intimidation

In her conclusions, the rapporteur says that examples such as Cuixart’s show that “human rights defenders are still suffering reprisals and intimidation and that their situation has not improved but has even worsened in certain Council of Europe member States,” emphasizing the issues in Russia and Turkey. A similar report by the Council of Europe’s then rapporteur of human rights, Raphael Comte, in June 2019, already mentioned Cuixart.

Other international organizations, such as Amnesty International or the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have repeatedly urged the release of Òmnium’s president and that of other pro-independence Catalan leaders. A manifesto signed by several famous international figures also called for amnesty for those behind bars and in exile after the 2017 independence push. The signatories included Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil; Irish politician Gerry Adams, key to the Northern Ireland peace process; Chinese activist and artist Ai Wei Wei, currently in exile in Germany, and Japanese artist Yoko Ono.

Five Nobel Prize winners have also expressed that they are in favor of an amnesty: Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian political activist and lawyer; Argentine pacifist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel; Jody Williams, a US anti-landmines activist; Mairead Maguire, an Irish peace activist, as well as Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek.

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