Catalonia’s regional high court, the TSCJ, has decided to put Catalan premier Quim Torra on trial for disobedience over his refusal to remove politically charged symbols from public buildings during the campaign race for the municipal and European elections of May 26.
In a decision that may be appealed, Judge Carlos Ramos decreed the start of trial proceedings against the separatist politician, whom prosecutors want to see barred from public office for one year and eight months.
Torra ignored instructions from election officials telling him to strip all official buildings of yellow ribbons, considered a symbol of support for leaders of the unilateral breakaway bid who were recently tried by the Supreme Court and some of whom will remain in prison until a verdict is returned.
Torra said he ignored orders because he answers to “a higher mandate” from the people
In May, Torra admitted to the TSJC that he deliberately disobeyed the “illegal” order by the Central Election Board (JEC), which he described as an “incompetent” body, because he himself answers to “a higher mandate” from the people.
The tug-of-war over the symbols began on March 11, when the JEC gave Torra 48 hours to remove yellow ribbons and esteladas, unofficial Catalan flags used to show support for independence, from all public buildings. Prosecutors had described these as partisan symbols that violated the political neutrality required of government agencies ahead of elections.
The crime of disobedience involves public authorities or government workers who “openly” refuse to observe court orders and other instructions from relevant authorities. Besides the financial penalties, a guilty verdict also entails being barred from holding public office for a period ranging from six months to two years.
This is what former Catalan premier Artur Mas was convicted of for organizing a non-binding independence referendum on November 9, 2014 (a predecessor of the October 1, 2017 vote, which the Catalan government considered binding).
The TSJC judge is also considering an alternative charge against Torra, failure to provide assistance, which is applicable to public servants who fail to provide the necessary assistance for the administration of justice or other public service. In this case, the sanction is “a suspension from the post or public position” for a period ranging between two and three years for individuals with leading responsibilities.
English version by Susana Urra.