SPAIN: E.U. SUMMIT POLICING MUST RESPECT RIGHT TO PEACEFUL PROTEST

'This weekend, Catalan police must exercise restraint and respect human rights. People must be allowed to express their opinions, no matter what those opinions are.'

'In Barcelona, all sides have their part to play in avoiding violence and ensuring free expression. Violence aimed at police or property cannot be condoned and neither can the suppression of peaceful protest,' Amnesty International continued.

Amnesty International has for some time been concerned about the alleged use of excessive and indiscriminate force by law enforcement officers during demonstrations, including a peaceful demonstration by undocumented immigrants in Almería in January 2002. The organisation received reports that during anti-globalisation demonstrations on 20-21 July 2001 in Genoa, law enforcement officers used excessive force on the streets inflicting indiscriminate assaults, including beatings with batons, on non-violent protestors and journalists reporting on the demonstrations.

Amnesty International also received reports that during the EU Summit in Gothenburg on 14-16 June 2001, the police used excessive force during the anti-globalisation demonstrations. In particular, Amnesty International was concerned that the police used live ammunition, and that as a consequence, three people suffered gunshot wounds. It was alleged that the firing of shots at demonstrators was not preceded by warning shots.

'The Spanish authorities have the responsibility to ensure the safety and security of participants in the Summit. However, it is the duty of the authorities to ensure the rights of protestors to peacefully exercise the rights of freedom of expression and assembly.'

Background s In its Annual Report 2001, Amnesty International expressed concern about use of excessive force by the Catalan autonomous police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, during a demonstration of immigrants, and noted that, in November 2000, a demonstration outside Congress by pacifists demanding the abolition of the external debt reportedly resulted in 24 injuries and seven arrests. On that occasion the Interior Minister told Congress that, while police intervention had been justified, the action of some officers had been 'inappropriate and excessive'.

Again, in its Annual Report 2000, the organisation noted that, in January 1999, a baton charge by National Police officers against students demonstrating at the Autonomous University of Barcelona had resulted in up to 19 injuries. In September 1999 the High Court of Justice of Cataluña ruled that the police action was 'disproportionate', obstructing the students' right to freedom of expression and assembly. More recently, in November 2001, a number of students alleged that they had been the victims of excessive force by police officers during a demonstration in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a judicial inquiry was opened into the allegations. Amnesty International was also concerned by allegations of police use of excessive force during a demonstration by undocumented immigrants peacefully demonstrating at Almería in January 2002.

The organisation is additionally concerned that the Spanish authorities have decided to suspend Article 2 of the Schengen Convention between 9-17 March. On 12 December 2001 the European Parliament specifically recommended that member states 'avoid blocking borders or denying individuals or groups of people who seek to participate peacefully in legitimate demonstrations the right to cross borders'. The European Parliament also requested member states to 'avoid a disproportionate use of force and instruct national police forces to control violence and preserve individual rights even in confused crowd scenarios where violent lawbreakers are mixed with peaceful law-abiding citizens'.

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