THE plight of political prisoners in Catalonia is to come under the spotlight of the Council of Europe amid claims that their right to freedom of expression has been violated.

A total of 12 pro-independence leaders are currently on trial in Madrid for their part in the October 2017 Catalan independence referendum and some have been in pre-trial detention for 18 months.

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The council’s parliamentary assembly (Pace) is now preparing a report on political prisoners in Spain and Turkey, following a motion by 20 of its members earlier this year.

They had expressed concern for the “growing number of national, regional and local politicians prosecuted for the statements made during the exercise of their mandate, particularly in Spain and Turkey”.

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Signatories said that according to the constitutional law experts on the Venice Commission, parliamentary immunity is based on the fundamental protection of the institution itself, and its elected representatives.

Freedom of expression for members of a parliament, they argued, was an “essential part of democracy” and should be protected.

Their motion read: “It is necessary for MPs to exercise their democratic functions effectively without fear of interference from the executive or judiciary. Their freedom of speech has to be a wide one and should be protected also when they speak outside parliament.”

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Meanwhile, former vice-president Oriol Junqueras, one of those on trial who is also a candidate in the April 28 Spanish election, will be allowed to take part in an election press conference tomorrow. However, Spain’s electoral board said he will not be allowed to leave Soto del Real prison, where he is being held, and will have to take part in the Catalan News Agency event by video conference.

The party he leads, the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) had sought permission for him to take part in a series of interviews, but the board has only authorised one.

Spain’s Supreme Court yesterday rejected requests from other jailed leaders Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull to take part in campaign rallies during the trial.