UNITED Nations member states including Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Russia have urged Spain to take steps to ensure freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest.

Critics were also worried at the excessive use of violence by Spanish police, as witnessed during the 2017 Catalan independence referendum.

Their criticism came in a Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a UN process that evaluates the state of human rights in member states.

Japan urged Spain to follow recommendations from UN working groups, including that on arbitrary detention, which said the political prisoners jailed over the indyref, should be freed.

Russia criticised the Spanish government for “unlawful interventions” by law enforcement agencies.

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Swiss lawyer Olivier Peter, who represents jailed Catalan indy activist Jordi Cuixart, said the recommendations showed “concern in the international community about the respect of human rights in Spain”.

Germany asked Spain to ensure its Security Law – more commonly known as the gag law – did not weaken the right to hold civil protests.

In a written question, Belgium asked what Spain would do to follow-up the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s call to release the Catalan prisoners.

This was one proposal that bodies such as Omnium Cultural, Amnesty International, and Front Line Defenders sent to the UN Human Rights Council in the UPR process.

However, the Spanish foreign secretary, Fernando Valenzuela Marzo, said Spain had “more than passed” the five-yearly examination.

The National: Fernando Valenzuela MarzoFernando Valenzuela Marzo

In a statement issued in Geneva, he said: “The level of citizen freedom … and expression in Spain is at the highest international standards.”

He admitted there had been “concerns about possible interpretations” of the gag law, but said no specific case had been highlighted.

Valenzuela Marzo added: “At no point are we in a situation that demands extraordinary action, but there are obviously specific points that need to be improved.”

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Meanwhile, a delegation of nine MEPs will today make a fourth visit to former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, and the other male political prisoners, in Lledoners jail, and Carme Forcadell, the former speaker of the Catalan parliament, in the Mas d’Enric prison.

Their visit comes as 44 MEPS, including ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and former minister Toni Comin, have written to the parliament’s president, David Sassoli, asking him to reinstate Junqueras as an MEP.

The MEPs based their argument on last month’s ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) recognising his position as an elected member – which Spanish authorities ignored.