CATALAN INDEPENDENCE DRIVE

Catalan premier barred from public office for disobedience

The Supreme Court has sentenced Quim Torra to an 18-month ban and €30,000 fine for refusing to obey an order to remove separatist symbols from public buildings

Catalan premier Quim Torra.
Catalan premier Quim Torra.Albert Garcia / EL PAÍS

Catalan premier Quim Torra was today found guilty by the Catalan Regional High Court of disobedience for failing to remove banners supporting jailed independence leaders from public buildings during an election campaign. Torra has been barred from public office for 18 months and will have to pay a fine of €30,000 and the legal costs of the trial. He will not, however, be removed from his position until an appeal has been heard by Spain’s Supreme Court and a definitive ruling has been issued.

In his testimony, Torra admitted having disobeyed the National Electoral Board

The case revolved around an order from Spain’s National Electoral Board (JEC) to remove the banners, which carried messages calling for the release of the politicians and civic association leaders involved in the 2017 secessionist drive in Catalonia. They were being held in custody while their trial for offenses including sedition and misuse of funds was heard in the Supreme Court. In October, the defendants were found guilty and nine of them were given lengthy prison sentences.

Torra’s trial took place on November 18, and in his testimony he admitted having disobeyed the JEC. He also refused to recognize the authority of the JEC in court and stated that the order it had given was “illegal.”

The sentence released today recounts the facts for which Torra has been convicted: that on March 11, during the general election campaign, the JEC gave the Catalan premier 48 hours to remove estelada flags (a symbol of the independence movement) and the yellow ribbons (symbolizing support for the jailed politicians) that were present outside a number of regional public buildings. Despite the fact that Torra was “aware and plainly conscious of the imperative and unavoidable character” of that order, he requested that it be revised.

The JEC repeated the order on March 18, and gave Torra 24 hours to comply. The regional premier let the deadline pass and sent a written communication to the JEC calling for clarifications.

The sentence also points out that on March 19, the regional government’s spokesperson, Elsa Artadi, publicly stated that the Catalan premier had no intention of removing the symbols. Two days later, the banners with yellow ribbons were substituted with identical ones, but with white ribbons instead. On March 21, the JEC ordered the regional interior minister, Miquel Buch, to instruct the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to take down the symbols. The Mossos immediately complied.

Quim Torra, who is a hardline supporter of Catalan independence, became regional premier in May 2018 after his predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, was ousted from office under Article 155 of the Constitution, which was activated by the Spanish government in the wake of the 2017 illegal referendum on independence and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence passed by the Catalan regional government. Torra, who is a lawyer by trade, was elected as a regional deputy in 2017 as an independence candidate for the pro-independence Together for Catalonia bloc.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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