A HUMAN rights lawyer acting for ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has likened his case to the UK Government jailing Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond because they wanted an independence referendum.

Ben Emmerson was speaking at a press conference yesterday, where he confirmed that he had lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee of the actions of the Spanish government following Catalonia’s declaration of independence.

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It was, he said, “as if the United Kingdom imprisoned Sturgeon or Salmond” for holding a referendum and seeking independence.

He added: “The world has to be told how Spanish justice acts. The [Spanish president Mariano] Rajoy government seems to regard its international obligations as being a joke.

“But let me assure you, and let me assure him, that they will in due course be vindicated, these rights are central to political democracy.

“We will continue to file applications of genuine solid merit to the international community and this judicial enforcement mechanism every month until the Madrid government is finally persuaded that it must enter into genuine negotiations with the leadership of the Catalan independence movement.”

Papers filed for Puigdemont cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The lawsuit reads: “Puigdemont alleges that Spain is guilty of violating its international treaty obligations through the cumulative imposition of disproportionate and unjustified restrictions with the exercise of his political rights.

“Even though he has never been convicted of a crime or stripped of his political rights in a court of law, Puigdemont’s rights to political participation, political expression and political association have been ruptured and ultimately snuffed out, at least for an indeterminate period, in pursuit of Spain’s broad political objection to independence from Catalonia, and in order to stifle political opposition and the expression of dissent.”

Puigdemont, who has been in exile in Brussels since October, faces arrest over charges of sedition and rebellion should he return to Spain.

A total of 28 Catalan leaders are being investigated for their part in the independence bid and a dozen have been detained in prison at some point in recent months.

Meanwhile, Rajoy’s government has launched an investigation into how Puigdemont is paying for his time in exile. Sources at La Moncloa, Rajoy’s official residence, told the daily El Pais the government wants to guarantee that no public money has been used to support the “activities of a fugitive from justice”.

“We will watch over the correct use of public money,” they said.

“A fugitive from justice will not live at the expense of the public treasury.

“And pay attention to the one who pays a salary with public money to that symbolic government that they want to constitute,” the source added – a reference to the “Council of the Republic” to be headed by Puigdemont in the Belgian capital, while his presidency will be taken up by another nominee in Catalonia.