Steve September 28, 2020

Spain’s Supreme Court has barred Catalonia’s regional president from his office for refusing to remove a banner that called for the release of imprisoned separatist leaders and was displayed on a public building ahead of the 2019 general election.

Monday’s ruling that Quim Torra disobeyed Spain’s electoral law triggers a new period of uncertainty in the northeast Spanish region. According to the existing regulations, Torra’s deputy should take over as president-in-charge until a new election is held.

Pro-secession activists reacted by calling for protests later on Friday in the regional capital, Barcelona.

In their ruling, the panel of judges unanimously agreed to confirm last year’s decision by a lower court to ban Torra from holding any public office for 18 months and fine him 30,000 euros ($35,000).

Torra, a staunch separatist who became the head of Catalonia’s government following the 2017 push for the region’s independence from Spain, had previously criticised the case as an act of repression against the democratic mandate of voters in the region.

He had remained at the helm of Catalonia during the appeal but Monday’s decision must be implemented even if the case is taken to the European Court of Human Rights, as pledged by Torra’s defence team.

The banner at the centre of the case referred to a dozen former Catalan Cabinet members, legislators and activists who were imprisoned or fled Spain following a declaration of independence in October 2017.

The court on Friday said Torra had “stubbornly” disobeyed the country’s electoral board by refusing to take it down from a balcony at the regional government’s headquarters.

In hearings, Torra and his defence lawyers had argued he was defending the higher cause of political and human rights. But the Supreme Court judges said the electoral board’s order did not violate Torra’s right to free speech and only limited what he could do in his role as an elected official.

Torra, who has in the past encouraged acts of civil disobedience in response to Spanish judicial rulings, did not react immediately to the ruling.

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