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The chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, José Antonio Guevara, has insisted that Spain's duty is to release the seven Catalan political prisoners which his group reported on, and has asked the authorities "not to try and distract attention" from this instruction. Guevara was responding in an interview with Catalan public television's FAQs programme to the attempts to "discredit" members of the Working Group by Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell after the UN body presented two reports earlier this year which called for the release of the imprisoned Catalan political and civil leaders. "We are used to this type of reaction from governments" of countries affected by reports, said Guevara.

After the publication of the two reports, in May and July, the Spanish government questioned the impartiality of the working group, called for the recusal of Guevara and another member and suggested that the report had been leaked to interfere in the judicial process. "These are completely unfounded accusations, but what is important is not what the government does to divert attention, but that there are seven people arbitrarily deprived of their freedom who should be at home and in the street," he said.

Guevara explained that the Spanish government's action is not "surprising" but warned that it is a distraction, taking aim at "the messengers in order to divert attention from the message." He acknowledged that this situation occurs in many regions, but stressed that many of the countries affected by Working Group procedures end up taking their opinions into account, giving Venezuela as an example, saying that the recent release of around fifty people was a "gesture of goodwill" towards the demands of the UN group.

Recommendations to the Spanish government

Guevara explained in the FAQs interview that the annual report which the group presents to the UN Human Rights Council records what measures a government has taken to comply with the Working Group's opinion. With respect to this, he recommended that the Spanish authorities comply with the requests and respond to the group on this issue, because if not, only the opinion of the prisoners affected will be included in the report. "It is in the best interests of Spain that they report the measures they have taken", he advised, adding that the report will be presented in September 2020.

Guevara also explained that the UN procedure only applies to the cases of Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Cuixart, Oriol Junqueras, Quim Forn, Josep Rull, Raül Romeva and Dolors Bassa. The other two Catalan pro-independence leaders jailed for many months before the 2019 trial, Jordi Turull and Carme Forcadell, did not take their legal cases to the work group.

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