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25th Jul 2021

Ban on Catalan leader condemned as 'disproportionate'

  • Quim Torra pledged to reach out to the European judiciary - describing the Spanish Supreme Court ruling as an 'attempt to overthrow the government of Catalonia' (Photo: parlament.cat)

The regional chief of Catalonia, Quim Torra, on Tuesday (29 September) appealed against his sentence for disobedience, a day after the Spanish Supreme Court upheld a decision to ban the separatist leader from public office for 18 months and ordering him to pay a €30,000 fine.

The court can now consider the appeal and either suspend Torra's disqualification, or dismiss the appeal - which would encourage him to bring the case before the European Court of Justice.

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Speaking on Monday evening, Torra was already pledging to reach out to the European judiciary - describing the Spanish ruling as an "attempt to overthrow the government of Catalonia".

"I assure you that the irregularities committed will be judged in Europe, which is the only place where Catalan pro-independence activists, as well as the just and legitimate cause for independence, can find justice," Torra said, adding that the Spanish state was thirsty for revenge.

Earlier, a lower court had found Torra guilty of disobedience for refusing to remove pro-independence symbols from public buildings during the March 2019 election campaign, despite three notices sent by the electoral commission for elections in Spain.

"[The Catalan president] repeatedly and stubbornly disobeyed the orders of the central electoral board to remove certain symbols from public buildings belonging to the [regional government] during the electoral process," the judges said in their ruling on Monday.

Torra previously admitted disobeying the electoral board when he was ordered to remove a banner reading "Freedom for Political Prisoners and Exiles" as well as yellow ribbons displayed in solidarity with the jailed Catalan leaders - arguing that the orders were against freedom of expression.

Prosecutors said the electoral control body aimed to guarantee the neutrality of the election campaign according to Spanish law.

However, the Catalan Ombudsman referred to Torra's ban from public office as "completely disproportionate" - although the institution recommended the regional leader remove the banner.

"The restriction of such a fundamental right as the right to be elected in competitive elections can only be understood in cases of the most serious crimes," the Catalan Ombudsman said in a statement.

'Democratic scandal'

The ongoing process again puts the Catalan issue high on the political agenda - particularly since the ruling occurred a few days before the third anniversary of the independence referendum, and a year after the Catalan trial.

Last year, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan politicians and activists to jail over their role in the 2017 independence bid.

"The ruling against president Torra is unfair and disproportionate in an EU country that should act according to the rule of law," said the separatist representative of the Catalonian government to the EU, Meritxell Serret, describing the sentence as a "democratic scandal".

"We need to bring this conflict back to the political arena from where never should have left," she told this website.

One solution advanced by academics and civil society is an amnesty law that would nullify the sentence of the nine Catalan leaders last year.

"Once more, the Spanish state interferes in our democratic institutions," wrote Torra's predecessor, MEP Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after heading the failed secession attempt three years ago.

In a letter, a group of 25 MEPs urged the leaders of the commission, parliament and council to confront the fact that "there is a problem of rule of law in Spain".

On Monday evening, several protests took place across Catalonia. And the ousted president displayed again outside the government headquarters in Barcelona the same banner for which he has been removed from office.

Meanwhile, new regional elections in Catalonia will likely take place in early 2021 after repeated delays due to coronavirus concerns.

A survey by the Catalan government's Center for Opinion Studies last December revealed an almost evenly-divided opinion on independence for Catalonia, with 47.9 percent of Catalans rejecting independence, and 43.7 percent support for it.

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