30th October 2020
Catalan President Quim Torra
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Catalan president Quim Torra barred from office for ‘disobedience’

Catalan president Quim Torra has been barred from office for 18 months for ‘disobedience’ following a hearing at the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid on 17 September.

In December 2019, Catalonia’s High Court of Justice had barred Torra from public office for 18 months and also fined him 30,000 euros for disobedience. Yet the decision was not final and, following an appeal, the Supreme Court has now issued its unanimous final ruling.

The disobedience is for failing to remove yellow ribbons and banners calling for the release of the jailed Catalan leaders from the Catalan government’s headquarters during an electoral campaign, as ordered by Spain’s Electoral Authority (JEC).

ALSO READ (19/12/19): Catalan president Quim Torra barred from public office for 18 months

Quim Torra did finally comply with the order to remove the yellow ribbons and banners [see sequence of links to previous reports below], but not by the time of the deadline set by the electoral authority. A criminal case against him was subsequently opened after the Ciudadanos (Cs) and People’s Party (PP) groups appealed.

The issue of yellow ribbons on government and public buildings across Catalonia has caused a political row in Spain since the leaders were first held in pre-trial custody for their roles in the October 2017 referendum.

The issue became even more intense after the nine politicians and activists were jailed for between 9-13 years by Spain’s Supreme Court on 14 October 2019. They were found guilty of sedition, following the high-profile trial over the independence referendum – with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia.

Quim Torra
Quim Torra (centre) arriving at the Supreme Court in Madrid on 17 September 2020. (Catalan Gov).

ALSO READ: Catalan Trial verdict: full details of each sentence

With Torra now barred from office, Catalonia is likely to enter an interim period in which the government’s vice president, Pere Aragonès, will become acting president – until a new leader is picked by the parliament.

If Catalan MPs do not reach an agreement within two months, a new election would be automatically called two months later. It is also possible that Torra calls for an election immediately.

ALSO READ (19/11/19): Amnesty International again call for two ‘Jordis’ immediate release

Madrid court

At the hearing in Madrid’s Supreme Court, Torra’s defence lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, had argued that hanging the banners on public buildings, including the government headquarters in Barcelona, was a ‘political act’ and, therefore, Torra was protected by his immunity as a Catalan MP.

Asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Catalan president’s disqualification from office, Boye had said that Torra had merely been using his freedom of speech and his fundamental rights of political participation.

He had also argued that Spain’s Electoral Authority (JEC) had not been impartial when acting against the pro-independence banners, referring to the fact that one of the board’s members was found to be at the same time an advisor for the Ciudadanos (Cs) party – a political group firmly opposed to Catalan independence.

The banner at the Catalan government's HQ in Barcelona.
The banner at the Catalan government’s HQ in Barcelona.

ALSO READ (1/8/20): Seven of nine jailed Catalan leaders have ‘low category’ prison sentence revoked

Torra’s lawyer had also argued that the one-day trial that saw him disqualified pending the appeal back in December 2019 was ‘not partial’ either, and that his plea to take the case to the European Court of Justice was rejected before a verdict was issued.

Yet the public prosecutor’s office, represented by lawyer Pilar Fernández, had said there was ‘no obligation’ for the judges to refer to Europe even if requested by the defence – therefore she rejected claims of ‘partiality’.

ALSO READ (4/7/19): UN working group calls for release of four more jailed Catalan politicians

Fernández had also contradicted Boye saying that the act of hanging signs in the government’s official buildings ‘is not a political act, but administrative’.

As for the ‘popular prosecutor’, represented by the far-right Vox party, lawyer Marta Castro had ruled out any of the arguments provided by Boye, saying: ‘Mr. Torra not only admitted he would not abide by the electoral board, but he boasted about it.’ She also said that freedom of speech ‘is not an unlimited right’.

Quim Torra
Quim Torra on 17 September 2020, in Madrid. (Jordi Bedmar / Catalan Gov).

ALSO READ (11/2/19): Catalan Trial focus – ‘popular prosecution has no equivalent elsewhere in Europe’

Quim Torra statement

Torra had issued a statement at the Catalan government’s delegation in Madrid, shortly after the hearing in Madrid on 17 September.

‘I have come to Madrid to look into the eyes of the court that wants to bring down another President of the Government of Catalonia,’ he said.

‘These magistrates of the Supreme Court who are to decide whether to disqualify a democratic and legitimate president from office for defending free speech, justice for political prisoners and the return of those in exile, these magistrates today hold in their hands something much more important than my political future. They do not wish to disqualify me for any banner; but for a banner that defended the fundamental rights denied to us. This is an utterly disproportionate legal action, lacking all sense of justice.’

ALSO READ (27/2/20): Talks commence between Spanish and Catalan governments

ALSO READ (7/2/20): Pedro Sánchez and Quim Torra face ‘long talks process’

ALSO READ (1/2/20): Catalan president Quim Torra calls for new elections in Catalonia

ALSO READ (24/1/20): Catalan president refuses to step down, despite court confirming suspension

ALSO READ (12/1/20): Electoral board declares Catalan president’s MP seat vacant

ALSO READ (10/1/20): Supreme Court rejects suspending JEC decision on Torra’s disqualification

ALSO READ (5/1/20): Quim Torra ratified as Catalan president, despite electoral authority ruling

ALSO READ (3/1/20): Quim Torra disqualified from Catalan presidency

ALSO READ (19/12/19): Catalan president Quim Torra barred from public office for 18 months

ALSO READ (18/11/19): Catalan president on trial for ‘disobedience’, facing ban from office

ALSO READ (27/9/19): Banner removed from Catalan government HQ – then replaced with new one

ALSO READ (21/9/19): Court orders provisional removal of banner calling for release of Catalan jailed leaders

ALSO READ (2/9/19): Catalan president to go on trial for ‘disobedience’ 

ALSO READ (29/7/19): Quim Torra fined €8,500 – and says he won’t pay

ALSO READ (12/7/19): Catalan president to face trial over yellow ribbon controversy

ALSO READ (9/7/19): Prosecutor wants Catalan president barred for yellow ribbons

ALSO READ (27/5/19): With elections over, yellow ribbon banner returns

ALSO READ (15/5/19): Quim Torra in court over yellow ribbon controversy

ALSO READ (6/5/19): Catalan president summoned to court over yellow ribbons

ALSO READ (27/3/19): Spain files criminal lawsuit against Catalan president over yellow ribbons

ALSO READ (22/3/19): Torra removes ribbons, criticises violation of civil rights

ALSO READ (21/3/19): Torra replaces yellow ribbon with white (plus red stripe)

ALSO READ (20/3/19): Yellow ribbons to be removed from government buildings

ALSO READ (19/3/19): Quim Torra maintains yellow ribbons despite ultimatum

ALSO READ (14/3/19): Torra claims ‘freedom of speech’, rejects yellow ribbons ban

ALSO READ (12/3/19): 48 hours to remove ‘esteladas’ and yellow ribbons from public buildings

ALSO READ (21/8/18): Political row over yellow ribbons

Click here for all articles and updates on the Catalan Trial, verdicts and sentencing

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