MARIANO Rajoy’s government broke a raft of European human rights laws with its violent and “disproportionate” response to the Catalan independence referendum in October, according to the state’s human rights ombudsman.

Speaking exclusively to The National, Rafael Ribo said there was evidence that German Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned Rajoy to tell him Europe did not like what he was doing, as images of Spanish National Police officers beating would-be voters with riot batons flashed across television screens around the world.

“On October 1 – when the police were acting brutally – we have proof that Merkel called Rajoy saying Europe couldn’t accept this,” he said.

“I don’t have the tape of the conversation, but suddenly at around 1-2pm everything stopped.

“The Spanish police started at 9 o’clock in such brutal fashion in different parts of the territory. At 1-130 it was absolutely stopped and there was no reason because if you wanted to prevent the celebration of the referendum and you start at nine in the morning you would carry on until the polling stations closed, not stop in the afternoon.

“It’s said that Merkel intervened saying ‘Europe cannot accept what you’re doing in Catalonia’.

“It’s the only deed where we have a connection between European and Spanish politicians.”

Ribo has prepared a report on the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms arising from the “criminal justice reaction” to October 1, and the application direct rule in Catalonia, which he will present to human rights judges in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

He said the “abusive and disproportionate” use of precautionary pre-trial detention for sacked ministers and public figures over the referendum was “perhaps the most flagrant violation of fundamental rights in this situation”.

Given that the conflict was impacting on fundamental rights, constructive dialogue was needed to achieve a political solution.

In his recommendations, Ribo said it was necessary to “strengthen the democratic guarantees” ensuring rights and fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, assembly and demonstration; and the political conflict in Catalonia must be tackled with “minimal criminal intervention”.

He added: “It is necessary a complete re-establishment of self-rule in Catalonia, without intervention in its administration or its finances.”

Ribo said that there was no reason for those in detention to be in jail: “It’s a big injustice, but we are talking about reality and they are in jail.”

The first law that was broken related to their incarceration in Madrid, instead of Catalan institutions.

“You must be tried by a close judge and if you’re going to be jailed it must be in your own territory ... there is no reason what they could not be in our prison system in Catalonia.

“Most of them have kids and two weeks ago the Council of Europe ministers said that any detainee should prevail the rights of the infants and kids – they have the right to be able to see their family easily.

“The first thing Pedro Sanchez’s government can do is to transport those prisoners to Catalan jails,” he said.

The ombudsman said neither the charges or rebellion nor sedition stood up to scrutiny: “No-one with any legal experience considers what they did as an act of rebellion and none of the international courts that are analysing extradition petitions are accepting the case for rebellion.

“Sedition is a tumultuous uprising, and this has nothing to do with sedition.”

Ribo added that Spain had also broken the law relating to freedom of political expression: “A politician can express whatever opinion they want if they’re elected members – they have freedom of expression under all human rights codes.

“In the Scottish Parliament you could declare the Soviet republic of Edinburgh if you wanted and it wouldn’t be illegal.”

Ribo said he hoped that María José Segarra Spain’s new attorney general – who is described as “progressive” would take a fresh look at the charges to help defuse the conflict.