CATALAN political prisoners, along with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and activists from around the world have all signed a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticising their continued detention during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their letter to former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet came after the Council of Europe, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all recommended reducing prison populations because of the high risk of spreading the disease.

Bachelet last month called on governments to take urgent measures to protect the health and safety of those in prison or detained in other facilities to curb the spread of Covid-19.

She said these included the elderly, the sick, “each and every person who is imprisoned without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained for having expressed critical or dissenting opinions”, as well as low-risk prisoners.

Catalonia’s political prisoners say they are concerned that “many states are not complying with their recommendations” and, as Bachelet said, “keeping prisoners in detention during this pandemic carries a high risk for their lives and health”, especially given the lack of hygiene and health facilities, as well as overcrowding in prisons and detention centres in most of their countries.

The signatories say the danger comes from the risk of outbreaks of the virus, and from the “repression against the protests that some prisoners have carried out in different detention centres”.

Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London and arrested a year ago, after Ecuador revoked his political asylum and invited officers from the Metropolitan Police into their premises.

He had been living there for more than six years and is now being held on remand in Belmarsh jail in London, after serving a 50-week sentence for violating bail conditions.

Assange is facing a hearing next month on US attempts to extradite him for questioning about Wikileaks’ activities and potential espionage charges.

Among the signatories are the jailed Catalan civic and political leaders: Jordi Sanchez, former president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC); president of Omnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart; former Catalan Government vice-president Oriol Junqueras; Carme Forcadell, ex-speaker of the Catalan Parliament and former ANC president; and former Catalan Government ministers Raul Romeva, Joaquim Forn, Dolors Bassa, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull.

All are entitled to regular temporary leave under Spain’s penal code, but the Supreme Court has already warned prison boards that allowing them home during their confinement period could constitute a “breach of official duty”.

Should the boards approve their release, the court said it would ask them to “explain the legal basis behind this decision at the earliest opportunity”.