HUMAN rights group Amnesty International has criticised Spanish police for violence against independence supporters in Catalonia who were trying to vote in the October independence referendum.

In its annual report, which covers 159 countries, Amnesty said: “The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly of Catalan independence supporters were disproportionately restricted.

“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. The police fired blank cartridges and rubber bullets, seriously injuring one person and causing him to lose the sight in one eye.”

Amnesty also accused Spain of failing to protect the rights of refugees and migrants and the “disproportionate” use of counter-terrorism legislation. Its report also focussed on the detention of sacked Catalan government ministers and grassroots activists: “On 16 October, a High Court judge ordered the pre-trial detention of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez, the presidents of two pro-Catalan- independence organisations.

“They were detained and charged with sedition, a broadly defined offence, in connection with protests they organised 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.” Amnesty was critical of Spain’s record on torture, and its report highlighted the case of the attempt to extradite from Switzerland Nekame Txapartegi, who had been detained in Madrid on suspicion of being a member of Basque terrorist group ETA.

Spain’s High Court dropped the extradition request after the term for enforcing a December 2009 conviction against her expired.

The report noted: “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 ... 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.”

The report added that Spanish authorities continued to “close” inquiries into crimes committed during the Civil War and the Franco regime, such as enforced disappearances and torture.

It said: “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 organisations to undertake exhumation projects without state support.”