SPAIN has come under further pressure over Catalan political prisoners after the world’s biggest coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) opposing arbitrary detention wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), headquartered in Switzerland, fights against torture, summary executions, arbitrary detentions and treatments or punishments said to be cruel, inhuman or degrading.

General secretary Gerald Staberock wrote to Sanchez primarily about two of the detainees, Jordi Cuixart, president of the grassroots Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez, who heads the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

“Omnium Cultural is a non-profit organisation, founded in 1961 under Franco’s dictatorship to promote the use of the Catalan language, which had been suppressed and reduced to family use for decades, and culture,” he said, adding that it had expanded its remit over the years to cover workers’ rights, non-discrimination and reforms of Spain’s criminal code.

Cuixart faces charges of rebellion and sedition relating to his role in a peaceful demonstration by 40,000 people outside the Catalan economy ministry while civil guards were raiding it. Prosecutors want him jailed for 17 years.

Staberock said: “The OMCT is also seriously disturbed by the pre-trial detention of Mr Sanchez … who has been deprived of liberty and prosecuted with the charges, and for ... Mr Cuixart.

“Freedom of assembly enshrines the liberty to come together to debate and speak out about shared concerns as long as the organisers of the gathering have peaceful intentions, means and manners.”

According to precedent at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) he said “peaceful” should include “conduct that may annoy or give offence, and even conduct that temporarily hinders, impedes or obstructs the activities of third parties”.

OMCT had also criticised “the indiscriminate and excessive use of force by the police” during the October 2017 referendum and had called for an “immediate, exhaustive and impartial investigation of police interventions that could amount to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment”.

Staberock said Cuixart was being detained because of the risk of reoffending, but added: “As a measure impacting the right to personal liberty, in order to be compatible with international standards and the presumption of innocence, pretrial detention must only be applied as a last resort.

“The OMCT condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against Mr Cuixart and Mr Sanchez, which constitutes a disproportionate restriction on his fundamental rights to free expression, peaceful assembly and personal liberty.

“The OMCT further considers that the charges against them are unfounded and must therefore be dropped.”

He said the group was also concerned that both men were facing trial in the Supreme Court, Spain’s highest judicial body which has no right of appeal and whose judges are installed by a body appointed by Spain’s parliament.

The letter came as it emerged that a Madrid court is investigating Catalan comedian Dani Mateo for a TV gag during which he blew his nose using the Spanish flag.

Alternativa Sindical Policia, a police union, pressed charges alleging hate crimes and insulting Spanish symbols, which triggered the investigation. Mateo has been summoned to court on Monday.

He said he and his family had been threatened since the incident, but added: “What’s happening to me confirms that the gag was pointing in the right direction. We’re going to kill each other. We’re putting symbols before people.”