Spain 2017/2018
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Spain 2017/2018

The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly of Catalan independence supporters were disproportionally restricted. Dozens of people were prosecuted for “glorification of terrorism” and “humiliation of victims” on social media. Law enforcement officials used excessive force against demonstrators peacefully resisting the enforcement of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia's ruling stopping the Catalan independence referendum. Spain relocated fewer asylum-seekers than it had pledged to under the EU relocation scheme, and resettled fewer refugees than it had committed to. Thousands of people continued to face forced evictions. The authorities continued to close investigations into crimes under international law committed during the Civil War and the Franco regime.

Background

Two violent attacks took place in Catalonia in August, leaving 16 people dead and several others wounded. The armed group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility. Six people believed to be responsible were killed by security forces, and four others were arrested and prosecuted for being implicated in the attacks and as members of the group that carried out the attacks.

On 1 October, the government of Catalonia, an autonomous region in the northeast, held a referendum on the region’s independence, in defiance of several Constitutional Court rulings. On 17 October, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the regional law on which the referendum was based and confirmed its precautionary measure which it had adopted on 7 September, aimed at preventing the referendum. On 27 October, the pro-independence political groups in the Catalonian regional parliament unilaterally declared the independence of Catalonia. On the same day, the Senate authorized the Spanish government to adopt measures pursuant to Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, effectively suspending the region’s autonomy. On 21  December, new regional elections in Catalonia took place. The party which obtained more votes than any other single party was a non-independence party, but overall the elections delivered the majority in the regional parliament to the combined pro-independence parties.

Freedoms of expression and assembly

Following the Constitutional Court decision of 7 September aimed at preventing the referendum, some authorities disproportionately restricted the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Courts in Madrid and Vitoria in the Basque country prohibited two public assemblies aimed at supporting the referendum. The municipality of Castelldefels in Catalonia adopted a blanket ban on the use of public spaces for assemblies aimed at supporting or protesting against the referendum.

On 16 October, a High Court judge ordered the pre-trial detention of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, the presidents of two pro-Catalan-independence organizations. They were detained and charged with sedition, a broadly defined offence, in connection with protests they organized in Barcelona on 20  and 21 September to, according to a judge, oppose a lawful police operation. In November, the Supreme Court took charge of the proceedings against Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart. The Supreme Court extended the investigation against them to the offence of rebellion.

Dozens of people were prosecuted for “glorification of terrorism” and “humiliation of victims” on social media networks. In many instances, authorities pressed criminal charges against people who had expressed opinions that did not constitute incitement to a terrorism-related offence and fell within the permissible forms of expression under international human rights law. Twenty people were convicted in the course of the year. In March, Cassandra Vera was convicted and given a suspended sentence of one year`s imprisonment for “humiliation of victims of terrorism”. She had published jokes on Twitter about ETA´s 1973 killing of Carrero Blanco, a Prime Minister under the Franco regime.

In January, the investigating judge dismissed charges of incitement to hatred against Alfonso Lázaro de la Fuente and Raúl García Pérez, professional puppeteers who in February 2016 were subjected to pre-trial detention for five days on charges of “glorifying terrorism” and incitement to hatred. The charges of “glorifying terrorism” were dismissed in 2016.

Administrative penalties continued to be imposed on private individuals, human rights activists and journalists on the basis of the Law on Public Security, which could constitute unlawful restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and information.

Mercé Alcocer, a journalist at Catalunya Radio, was fined EUR601 for disobeying a police order. She crossed an unmarked police line in her attempt to interview a witness when she was covering a corruption case which was being investigated by the High Court. She appealed, arguing she had stepped back when told to and that her account could be substantiated by footage from security cameras. The footage was not admitted as evidence, and her appeal was pending at the end of the year.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In September, the High Court dropped the request for the extradition from Switzerland of Nekane Txapartegi. The term for enforcing a December 2009 conviction against her had expired. In April, the Special Rapporteur on torture had urged the Swiss authorities to oppose the extradition. Nekane Txapartegi said she was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment when she was held incommunicado for five days in a police station in Madrid in 1999. She had been arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offences and of being an ETA member. Investigations into her torture allegations had not been conducted thoroughly in the past.

In May, the Constitutional Court declared admissible an appeal by the government against a Basque Parliament law on the recognition of and reparation for victims of human rights violations in the Basque Country.

Excessive use of force

Law enforcement officials policing protests on 1 October in Catalonia used excessive force against peaceful protesters who were opposing a police operation. The police fired blank cartridges and rubber bullets, seriously injuring one person and causing him to lose the sight in one eye.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Spain failed to meet its commitment to relocate 15,888 asylum-seekers under the EU emergency relocation scheme; 1,328 were relocated by the end of the year, of which 592 were Syrian nationals. Spain also failed to meet its commitment to resettle 1,449 refugees from the Middle East and North Africa; 1,360 refugees were resettled, all Syrian nationals, except one refugee from Palestine, by 31 December.

Between January and December, 25,853 asylum claims were submitted, and 34,655 applications were still pending at the end of October. Asylum-seekers continued to face delays in receiving decisions on their claims. For many, the period during which they were entitled to access government support pending the outcome of their asylum application expired long before the decision was reached.

According to the EU border agency FRONTEX, there were 21,663 irregular border crossings via the Western Mediterranean route up to September, more than double the figure for the same period in 2016.

In October, the European Court of Human Rights held that the immediate return to Morocco of sub-Saharan migrants who were attempting to enter Spanish territory in Melilla in 2014 amounted to a collective expulsion of foreign nationals.

Counter-terror and security

Judicial authorities continued to use counter-terrorism legislation disproportionately. Three of the seven people detained and charged with terrorism-related offences for their alleged participation in an attack against two off-duty civil guards and their partners in Alsasua (Navarra) in a pub in October 2016, were in pre-trial detention pending a hearing due in April 2018.

Violence against women

According to the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, 48 women (and eight children) were killed by their partners or former partners.

In September, Parliament approved a plan to combat gender-based violence, encompassing a review of legislation and other measures to meet the obligations enshrined in the Istanbul Convention on violence against women.

Right to housing

Thousands of people were forcibly evicted without adequate judicial safeguards or provision of alternative accommodation by the state. These included 26,767 rental evictions and 16,992 mortgage evictions. Public spending on housing continued to decrease, even though the demand for affordable social housing remained high. Single mothers and survivors of gender-based violence were particularly affected by the lack of affordable alternative housing. In July, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights upheld a complaint against Spain for not having provided an evicted family with alternative housing.

Impunity

Spanish authorities continued to close investigations into crimes under international law committed during the Civil War and the Franco regime. They argued that it would not be possible to investigate the crimes reported, such as enforced disappearances and torture, in view of, among other things, the Amnesty Act and the statute of limitations. The authorities continued to fail to take measures to locate and identify the remains of victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, leaving families and organizations to undertake exhumation projects without state support.

In February, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office started an investigation into the so-called “stolen babies” case, making Mexico the second country to investigate crimes under international law committed in Spain during the Civil War and the Franco regime. The investigation concerned the case of a woman born in Spain in 1968 and handed over to a Mexican family, reportedly after having been abducted from her family. In September, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances stated that this case constituted a new opportunity for Spain to fully co-operate in the investigations carried out by other states into enforced disappearances which occurred in Spain.

The 2014 amendments to universal jurisdiction legislation were invoked by the Spanish judiciary to not investigate crimes under international law, such as enforced disappearances and torture, committed in Syria and Venezuela in 2017 against Spanish nationals.

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