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Demonstrators holding banners with a picture of former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras during a protest in support of the politicians imprisoned in front of the city hall in Sant Vicenc dels Horts, Spain, in 2018.Manu Fernandez/The Associated Press

Independent human rights experts working with the United Nations say Spain violated the political rights of members of the Catalan government and parliament by stripping them of their duties prior to any conviction following the illegal independence vote in the region five years ago.

The Human Rights Committee, a group of 18 experts, released its findings on Wednesday following a complaint by four Catalan regional leaders who were prosecuted and sentenced in Spain over their roles in the October 2017 referendum and its turbulent aftermath.

Spain’s constitutional court ruled that the referendum was invalid, and the four officials – including former Catalonia vice president Oriol Junqueras – and others were prosecuted for the crime of rebellion and stripped of their governmental functions.

Two years later, however, the charges were downgraded to sedition – which doesn’t include the element of violence that is part of the crime of rebellion.

Twelve people were convicted but only nine received jail sentences. The nine were pardoned in 2021 but remain barred from holding office.

The two pro-Catalan independence parties which most of the 12 belonged to celebrated the decision Wednesday.

Spain “must cease it repressive policies and cannot continue using the law and penal processes to confront the peaceful demand for the right to self-determination,” the Republican Left of Catalonia and “Together For Catalonia” parties said in a joint statement.

There was no immediate reaction from the Spanish government. Spain says a self-determination referendum is a breach of the country’s constitution.

The committee, which works with the U.N. human rights office, works to help make sure that the 173 countries that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including Spain, honour and uphold its requirements.

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