A COUNCIL of Europe (CoE) rapporteur is to visit Barcelona and Madrid as part of an investigation into the rising number of political prisoners in Spain and Turkey.

In a motion to the council’s Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee, Latvian Boris Cilevics listed numerous cases in which the European Court of Human Rights has passed resolutions on freedom of expression for politicians’ statements, including several relating to Spain.

The move follows a motion from 20 members from various countries earlier this year, calling for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “to examine, from a legal and human rights perspective, the situation of politicians imprisoned for exercising their freedom of speech”.

A dozen Catalan independence figures have been in prison for almost two years and are awaiting the verdicts in their trial over the 2017 referendum.

Cilevics, who will undertake a “a fact-finding visit to Spain”, cited the Venice Commission’s view that “the primary purpose of parliamentary immunity lies in the fundamental protection of the parliamentary institution and in the equally fundamental guarantee of the independence of elected representatives”.

His memorandum said of Spain: “Criminal prosecutions target the president and members of the ousted autonomous Catalan government, the Speaker and three members of the parliament’s presiding board, dozens of senior government officials and over 700 mayors.”

It went on to discuss the referendum, Spain’s imposition of direct rule under Article 155 which followed it and the state of legal proceedings against the politicians.

“The charges against them – rebellion, sedition and organised criminal activity are considered by many commentators as grossly disproportionate,” said Cilevics, who also considers the, “novel interpretation of the violence requirement for the crime of rebellion” that was adopted by the court and prosecutors.

“Allegations [of an] unfair imposition of pre-trial detention and doubts on the neutrality of the courts dealing with the cases of the Catalan politicians may also be relevant.

“Numerous international NGOs and parliamentarians from many countries have denounced the arrests, detention and prosecution of the former Catalan government members,” a reference to the conclusions reached by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and human rights organisations.

This is not the first time the CoE has researched developments in Spain. Following police violence to stop the indyref, it called on Spanish authorities to launch an investigation.

Cilevics also raised the Spanish government’s contention that the poll was illegal, asking: “The question remains for which facts exactly the former members of the Catalan government are being prosecuted – given that the organisation of an illegal referendum was explicitly de-criminalised ... and that participating in and even organising peaceful demonstrations constitutes the exercise of a fundamental right. Can the exercise of a constitutional right constitute a crime ... punished by long prison sentences such as those requested against the Catalan politicians in Spain?”