Spain: Criminalisation of Mr. Iñaki Rivera

Urgent Appeal
en es

ESP 001 / 0919 / OBS 073
Stigmatisation /
September 16, 2019

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Spain.

Brief description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the acts of stigmatisation, harassment and criminalisation against Mr. Iñaki Rivera, director of the Observatory of the Penal System and Human Rights (OSPDH) [1] and the System of Registration and Communication of Institutional Violence (SIRECOVI) - organizations which defend the human rights of prisoners and victims of institutional violence [2].

According to the information received, Mr. Iñaki Rivera has been summoned to testify on September 18, 2019, as a defendant before the Court of Instruction in Barcelona. The citation has been produced following a complaint by the prison commission of the Comisiones Obreras trade union, which has accused Mr. Iñaki Rivera of defaming prison officials during a Catalan public television interview (in the TV3 channel [3]) in which the existence of ill-treatment in prisons was discussed. Another prison officers trade union, CSIF, has requested that Mr. Iñaki Rivera retract his comments made during the same television program, which if not adhered to, would trigger a second criminal process for defamation against him which is yet to be formalized. Today, the judicial process is in an initial phase, and therefore the exact nature of the charges that the Prosecutor and the investigating Judge will consider are uncertain. The Spanish Criminal Code punishes public defamation with a sentence that can reach up to two years in prison.

The Observatory views these judicial proceedings against Mr. Iñaki Rivera in the context of hostility, aims to discredit, criminalize and enact reprisals as a consequence of Mr. Iñaki Rivera longstanding work on denouncing ill-treatment and torture in prisons. Following the participation of Mr. Iñaki Rivera in the aforementioned television program on November 29th, 2018, the campaign of attacks against him by some unions connected to the prison system intensified [4]. In addition to judicial harassment against him, Mr. Rivera has received serious disqualifications and stigmatization evidenced in prison officials preventing Mr. Rivera’s from entering prisons in Catalonia.

The campaign has further increased in the context of the presentation in November 2018 of a SIRECOVI report on institutional violence [5] in which at least 106 cases of institutional violence in Catalonia between December 2016 and September 2018 were recorded, of which 67.9% would have occurred against people in custody in prisons.

The Observatory denounces the existence in Spain of a trend towards the improper use of criminal law against statements and messages protected by freedom of expression, including critical observations regarding the actions of State police bodies or other officials and representatives of the State, by resorting to criminal definitions such as hate crime, defamation or exaltation of terrorism. These facts have a clear intention and inhibitory effect, negatively impacting the exercise of rights such as freedom of expression and assembly, which has been denounced on numerous occasions by civil society organizations [6], as well as by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in judgments such as the Toranzo Gómez case c. Spain (application No. 26922/14).

In reference to the above events, the Observatory urges the Spanish Government and the Autonomous Government of Catalonia to take all necessary measures to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Iñaki Rivera and the rest of the members of the OSPDH and SIRECOVI, as well as to ensure that acts of harassment are not carried out against him, including at the judicial level.


This campaign of attacks against Mr. Rivera, the OSPDH and SIRECOVI should be added to a long list of serious attacks against him since 2004 including insults, disqualifications, threats and acts of harassment in retaliation for his legitimate work on defending human rights through the reporting of cases of torture and/or ill-treatment against persons deprived of liberty.

This campaign of attacks has been followed with concern by the Observatory, as well as by various international mechanisms. In 2015, the United Nations Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment expressed concern about allegations of retaliation including against members of the OSPDH for reporting acts of torture by officials of the Quatre Camins [7] penitentiary centre. Likewise, in the list of issues prior to the presentation of the seventh periodic report of Spain to the UN Committee Against Torture, the State is requested to report on the investigations that have been carried out on the allegations of reprisals against members of the OSPDH, as well as for the alleged obstruction of his work monitoring the human rights situation in penitentiary centres in Catalonia [8].

Actions requested:  
Please write to the authorities in Spain, urging them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment against Mr. Iñaki Rivera, including the process of criminalisation against him;

ii. Take the most appropriate measures to immediately ensure the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Iñaki Rivera and the rest of the OSPDH and SIRECOVI members;
iii. Ensure that Mr. Iñaki Rivera can undertake his legitimate and essential work defending human rights in the prison system without obstructions or reprisals and with all the guarantees established in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders from the United Nations;

iv. More generally, ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Spain.


• Mr. Pedro Sánchez, acting President of the Government of Spain. E-mail:
• Mr. Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez, acting Minister of the Interior. E-mail:
• Mr. Josep Borrell Fontelles, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs. E-mail:
• Mrs. Ester Capella i Farré, Minister of Justice of the Generalitat of Catalonia. E-mail:
• Mr. Amand Calderó i Montfort, General Director of Penitentiary Services of the Generalitat of Catalonia. E-mail:
• Mr. Cristóbal González-Aller Jurado, Ambassador Permanent Representatives of Spain to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva. E-mail:

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Spain in your respective country.

Geneva-Paris, September 16, 2019
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail:
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
• Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

[1] The Observatory of the Penal System and Human Rights (OSPDH) of the University of Barcelona is composed of professors, students, graduates, postgraduates and professionals who research, teach and observes activities of the institutions of the criminal system. They work for the culture of human rights, defend the rights and freedoms of people and strengthen the principles and values of the democratic rule of law.
[2] The SIRECOVI is a Registration and Communication System for the protection of victims of Institutional Violence created and managed by the Observatory of the Penal System and Human Rights, a Research Center of the University of Barcelona (UB). The System is activated when a communication is received concerning that a person has allegedly suffered ill-treatment or torture in places of deprivation of liberty (for example, prisons, police stations, juvenile centers or detention centers for foreigners) or on the streets, by some authority agent.
[3] See the Open Letter form the OSPDH of December 20, 2018:
[4] See press releases of some prison workers trade unions and
[6] See, for example: OMCT Statement of 29th March, 2018,
[7] Refer to A/HRC/34/54/Add.3, párrs. 449 a 451.
[8] Refer to CAT/C/ESP/QPR/7 QPR%2f7&Lang=es.

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