Spain pressured to free imprisoned Catalan activists
Demonstrators hold up a poster of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, during a protest in support of Catalonian politicians and leaders of two civil society groups who have been jailed on charges of sedition in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Oct. 16. 2018. Politicians, rights groups and citizens across Catalonia are calling for the release of jailed separatists as they mark one year since two prominent pro-independence activists, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of two civil society groups _ ANC and Omnium Cultural, respectively _ were put in pre-trial detention. Banners reads in Catalan âone year of shame, on year of dignityâ (Emilio morenatti/Associated Press) October 16 at 4:44 PM
BARCELONA, Spain â" Politic ians and human rights groups urged the Spanish government Tuesday to release imprisoned separatists facing rebellion and other charges from the Catalonia regionâs push for independence, including two activists put into pre-trial detention a year ago.
Catalan regional president Quim Torra, who favors independence from Spain, paid a visit Tuesday to Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of civil society groups ANC and Omnium Cultural, respectively.
Both played a key role in bolstering public support for a banned vote on independence held last year in Catalonia, a prosperous industrial and tourism hub in northeastern Spain.
In the evening, hundreds of independence supporters gathered in the regional capital, Barcelona, and outside the two prisons where the separatists are held. The spouses of both activists attended the Barcelona protest flanked by Catalan officials.
âThey did not neutralize or weaken him,â Txell Bonet, Cuixartâs partner, told The Associated Press. âOn the contrary, he is stronger in his convictions because they are noble and legitimate convictions.â
Human rights group Amnesty International also called for Cuixart and Sanchezâs âimmediate release,â describing their time in custody as âexcessive and disproportionate.â
The center-left government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who is trying to ease tensions in the restive region while enlisting the separatistsâ support for his budget in the national parliament, has said it canât intervene because the case is in the hands of judges.
Sanchez and Cuixart were jailed on Oct. 16, 2017, just over two weeks after the banned referendum. First accused of possible sedition for their role in a tumultuous protest that hindered police efforts to stop the vote, their detention was prolonged with rebellion charges, which under Spanish law implies the use of violence.
In court appearances during the investigation, both ad vocated for peaceful activism and claimed they climbed on police cars the night of the protest only to call for the crowds to refrain from acting with violence.
Five pro-independence leaders, including former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, fled overseas when the probe targeted them, while seven more separatists were also jailed and await trial.
Amnesty Internationalâs statement this week only called for the release of Sanchez and Cuixart, with no reference to the other separatist leaders. The non-profit group said the rebellion charges, which can be punished with decades behind bars, are âunjustified and, therefore, should be dropped.â
The minority Socialist administration needs support from small and regional parties, including the Catalan separatists, to pass next yearâs national budget in the parliamentâs lower house, a key step for Sanchezâs ambition to remain in office until the current term ends in 2020.
Parra reported fr om Madrid
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