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Attorney general orders lawsuit against Catalan president for defying electoral authority

Torra orders ribbon symbols in support of pro-independence leaders replaced with banner defending freedom of expression

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22 March 2019 05:43 PM

by

ACN | Barcelona

"Freedom of opinion and expression. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" reads a new banner thathung from the balcony of Catalan government headquarters on Friday afternoon.

The banner was president Quim Torra's response to Spain's attorney general ordering legal action against him for failing to comply with the electoral authority's orders to remove "partisan" symbols from the front of the building.

On Friday, the attorney general ordered Catalan prosecutors to file a lawsuit against Torra after he had previously refused to remove banners from the building showing support for pro-independence leaders currently in prison or in exile.

The electoral authority's orders to remove the banners were issued after a complaint by the Ciutadans opposition party, which argued that they would prejudice the neutrality of institutions during the election campaign.

The initial debate centered on the yellow ribbon symbols in support of jailed and exiled pro-independence leaders, but Torra's response of covering them up with white ribbons led the electoral authority to insist they also be removed.

Torra ordered the banners to be taken down on Friday, but replaced those featuring ribbons with a new one declaring the right to freedom of expression. The president also announced that next week he will take the institution to court for breach of official duty.

Separation of powers

In a statement, Torra argued that the electoral authority's rulings were “manifestly unfair” due to the “arbitrary” nature of the deliberations and asserted that he would continue to stand up for freedom of expression “with all the consequences that entails.”

Torra also repeated his criticism of an alleged lack of separation of powers in Spain on the grounds that two members of the electoral authority are also presiding judges in the trial of independence leaders.

Torra also encouraged citizens to hang yellow ribbons from their balconies, as well as flags supporting a Catalan republic, in protest against a “demophobic state that violates the most basic civil rights of Catalans, including the right to self-determination.”

Sánchez: "Rules in a democracy must be obeyed"

Spanish president Pedro Sánchez responded by insisting that the attorney general is “independent,” and said his government is "at the service" of the electoral authority and that the "rules in a democracy have to be obeyed."

Sánchez added that the controversy surrounding the yellow ribbons and banners shows that "the problem in Catalonia is one of coexistence" and that the role of the authorities is to "safeguard" the neutrality of public institutions.

"There are some Catalans, at least half, who do not feel attracted by or identify with a symbology that is clearly partisan," he said, adding that a "broad majority" of Catalans want to move on and "talk about coexistence and solutions."

As for the Ciutadans party, which made the initial complaint against the yellow ribbons, its spokesperson, Carlos Carrizosa, announced that "democracy has won and Torra has lost," after the president ordered the removal of the banner with the ribbons.

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  • Banner hanging from the Catalan government headquarters, reading: “Freedom of opinion and expression. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (by Bernat Vilaró)

  • Banner hanging from the Catalan government headquarters, reading: “Freedom of opinion and expression. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (by Bernat Vilaró)