The UN Human Rights Council issued a statement Thursday criticizing Spanish government efforts to block a referendum on independence in Catalonia.
The vote is scheduled for Oct. 1 but the central government in Madrid says the referendum is illegal and can’t happen.
In the council’s statement, UN human rights experts say, “Regardless of the lawfulness of the referendum, the Spanish authorities have a responsibility to respect those rights that are essential to democratic societies.”
The statement notes that authorities have searched printing establishments, seized referendum material, blocked websites, stopped political meetings and deployed more than 4,000 police officers to the Catalan region. They also express concern that leaders of the mass protests have been charged with sedition and about the arrest of politicians.
“The measures we are witnessing are worrying because they appear to violate fundamental individual rights, cutting off public information and the possibility of debate at a critical moment for Spain’s democracy,” the UN human rights experts say.
The experts, “called on the Spanish authorities to ensure that measures taken ahead of the Catalan referendum on 1 October do not interfere with the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation,” adding that they have been in contact with the Spanish government.
The experts are David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, a former U.S. state department official, and Alfred de Zayas, a UN independent expert on democracy and a U.S. lawyer.