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The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, has demanded that Spain investigate and appropriately punish all "abusive use of force" by police which may have occurred during the protests in Catalonia over the last week. She has also said she intends to visit Spain "to talk with the authorities" on the issue of freedom of assembly.

On Monday, Mijatovic made a statement expressing her concern about the "numerous reports" of attacks against journalists who covered the demonstrations in Catalonia prompted by the jail terms given by a Spanish court to pro-independence leaders. Specifically, 37 such complaints were made by journalists, with several related to police actions, despite the fact that the media professionals were correctly identified. One particular complaint which Mijatovic explicitly mentioned was the arrest of photojournalist Albert Garcia when he had been seen taking images of how police arrested a protester.

Mijatovic recalled that, in this context, "ensuring full respect for freedom of expression, which includes the right to receive and impart information, is key". For that reason she has called on the Spanish authorities to investigate all reported cases of attacks on journalists and to guarantee their safety during demonstrations.

Another aspect which concerns the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner is the accusation that police used disproportionate force and "inappropriate" use of anti-riot weapons during last week's demonstrations.

She said that although she understands the "numerous challenges" faced by the police when they have to confront "violent attacks" and "numerous acts of vandalism" on the streets, which she "strongly condemns", these actions must be governed by the principle of "necessity and proportionality" in the use of force.

In this regard, she explained she has received several reports, including one from Amnesty International, which denounce the "improper use" of weapons such as rubber or foam bullets. She also regrets that four people have lost an eye due to these devices, and recalls that her predecessor in the post gave a warning on October 4th, 2017 in a letter to the Spanish government that the use of these weapons represented "a clear danger to the health of protesters".

"Because of their imprecise and indiscriminate effect," these weapons "should not be used against large numbers of people, including rallies that bring together a large number of peaceful demonstrators".

Finally, Mijatovic urged the Spanish authorities to "reconsider" the use of these weapons and "investigate and adequately sanction" all cases of abusive use of force that police may have practiced.

The Council of Europe is the European continent's leading human rights organization. It has 47 member states: all 28 members of the EU and 19 others.

Irish MEP "ashamed" to stay silent about Catalonia 

Meanwhile, at the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament, Mijatovic announced that she will visit Spain, where she sees "problems" with the freedom of assembly, in order to "talk with the authorities". "Until then I will be watching the question of freedom of assembly, which is a crucial topic," said the Bosnian politician.

Mijatovic, although not an MEP, was present at the committee for an "exchange of views", and views on Catalonia were certainly aired at the meeting. Irish MEP Clare Daly was outspoken about the need for Europe to ensure that dialogue about Catalonia begins: "I am ashamed to call myself a European and to talk about human rights and we stay silent" about Catalonia, she said. 

She tweeted a video extract of her speech which also included Mijatovic's response.