The Spanish government has blatantly ignored the opinion issued by the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calling for the immediate release of the Catalan political prisoners. This is hardly a surprise. The list of international bodies that have issued statements along the same lines or have denounced the irregularities of Spain’s justice system, such as Amnesty International and International Trial Watch, is a long one. They have all met with the same response: scorn. In some cases —such as the UN resolution pursued by the Catalan National Assembly and Òmnium Cultural and represented by lawyer Ben Emmerson— this has been accompanied by media silence. This silence came after a number of chief editors at news outlets received a phone call from España Global, the public office set up by Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell and currently run by Irene Lozano. España Global spreads disinformation on an international level aimed at knocking down the pro-independence narrative by fabricating fake news about Catalonia’s reality.
Every time a judgement like this is released, Spain reacts by reverting back to its old isolationist mindset, as it did during the Franco regime. The answer is to sow distrust for international institutions, drizzled with a generous amount of patriotism at home. When the court of Schleswig-Holstein ruled in favour of Carles Puigdemont and denied that a crime of rebellion had been committed [in 2017], they launched a smear campaign against German justice. Now Lozano has had the nerve to claim that the UN “has bought into the propaganda” on the matter and that it “needs to improve” its information-gathering methods. The trouble is, Lozano herself is on record insisting in 2015 —when she was a UPyD representative addressing the Spanish parliament— that UN opinions must be complied with. Obviously, Lozano was not referring to the Catalan political prisoners, but to Venezuela’s opposition leader Leopoldo López. We all know that Catalonia is not Venezuela. Spain supports the Venezuelan coup through diplomacy while it imprisons democratic leaders accusing them of staging a coup by holding a vote.
In the last two years, the UN has issued 245 statements of this sort, two of which concerned EU member states where political activists were being held in custody: France and Poland. In both cases the prisoners were released following the UN’s opinion. Neither France nor Poland dared to question the UN statement. In the French case, the UN called for the release of a Khazakh opposition leader, Mukhtar Ablyazov, who was held on remand awaiting extradition. The experts’ opinion was published on November 23, 2016 and two weeks later France’s council of state revoked Ablyazov’s extradition and he was freed on December 9. In Poland’s case —a more recent one— the Working Group called for the release of Mateusz Piskorski in April 2018. Piskorski —a political activist— had been arrested in 2016 on a charge of spying for Russia. He was released in May this year (one year after the UN’s opinion), after spending three years in jail.
Spain has not only scorned the opinion of the UN’s Working Group, but it has doubted its substance and questioned the standing of the experts who have written it. Spain’s isolationist stance makes the international community growingly suspicious about a conflict that was supposed to remain an internal affair, but is increasingly less so. The crass attempt to deny president Carles Puigdemont entry into the European Parliament is the latest chapter in this desperate battle: the European chamber has had no choice but to revoke the credentials of all the newly-elected MEPs from Spain. Catalonia’s independence supporters have managed to bring the game to the international arena, even though Spain can make its influence be felt within the EU by denying political rights, although eventually it is bound to lose the case in court. With the exception of Spain’s, today all the European press is asking who decides whether someone is an MEP, the voters or a Spanish court. Ben Emmerson, the legal representative of Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart before the UN, had warned that Spain will be shunned by the international community and denounced as a “rogue state”, if it chooses to ignore the UN’s opinion. It will become a “pariah state” from a democratic standpoint. In India’s unequal caste system, pariahs are the lowest rung on the ladder.