This statement was originally published on pen-international.org on 21 January 2019.
The Spanish authorities should drop the disproportionate charges of rebellion and sedition against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart and release them immediately, PEN International said today, ahead of their trial, expected to start next month. The writers and civil society leaders have been held in pre-trial detention for more than a year and face up to 17 years in prison if convicted.
Writers and Catalan civil society leaders, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, were taken into custody on 16 October 2017 on charges of sedition. They were subsequently charged with rebellion in March 2018. They stand accused of calling on protestors to gather in front of governmental buildings in Barcelona on 20 and 21 September 2017 in order to obstruct searches for electoral materials, and for 'encouraging, supporting and leading' sedition through participation in Catalonia's independence referendum on 1 October 2017, despite the Spanish Constitutional Court suspending the Catalonian referendum law.
Prosecutors are seeking 17 years in prison for rebellion under Articles 472.1, 472.5, 472.7, 473.1 and 478 of the Spanish Penal Code, and eight years in prison for sedition under Articles 544 and 545 of the Penal Code against both men. Sentences are not cumulative.
'Sedition and rebellion charges against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart are clearly excessive and should be dropped immediately', said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International. 'They both made calls for the demonstration to remain peaceful, as the indictment explicitly states in the case of Jordi Cuixart.'
Despite filing several petitions for release, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart have been remanded in custody for over a year. In December 2018, Jordi Sànchez and three other imprisoned Catalan leaders embarked on a hunger strike to protest against their ongoing detention, accusing Spain's Constitutional Court of deliberately rejecting their appeals to prevent their cases progressing to the European Court of Human Rights.
Together with other human rights groups, PEN International believes that the lengthy pre-trial detentions of Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart are an excessive and disproportionate restriction on their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and calls for their immediate release.
At a press conference held today in Barcelona, PEN Català and PEN International released a statement denouncing a string of attacks against freedom of expression and artistic freedom in Catalonia. The statement, endorsed by scores of PEN Centres and members, urges the Spanish authorities to drop the charges against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart and to release them immediately:
'In light of our commitment to defending the right to freedom of expression, we call on the Spanish authorities to drop the charges against Sànchez and Cuixart and to release them immediately. Beyond having expressed their ideas peacefully, they have also ensured, from the organisations over which they preside, the free circulation of the ideas of writers in Catalonia.'
Speaking at the press conference, Jennifer Clement added: 'Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart have spent more than a year behind bars. They should have never been detained in the first place and must be released at once.'
PEN International has expressed deep concerns about restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and opinion in Catalonia during and following the referendum on independence of 1 October 2017. In total, 22 Catalan leaders involved in the referendum will be tried for rebellion, misuse of public funds or disobeying the state.
PEN International has further denounced the deterioration of freedom of expression in Spain, notably the use of the so-called 'gag-law' and its chilling effect on artistic freedom. Scores of journalists, artists and bloggers have been prosecuted and some convicted of insults to the Crown and glorification of terrorism simply for having peacefully expressed dissent or criticism of the authorities.
Jordi Sànchez, 54, is the former president of the Catalan National Assembly. As former director of the Jaume Bofill Foundation, he co-authored several reports on social equality, migration, public policy and education, democratic values and civil society participation, as well as a range of academic papers.
Jordi Cuixart, 43, is the president of Òmnium Cultural. He is the author of a book of poems entitled El plaer dels plaers, published in 2007.
Both men contributed to the 2018 book Per la llibertat and have written numerous press articles while in pre-trial detention. They are currently being held in Lledoners prison, near Barcelona.