Catalan independence flag banned from public square

Sant Cugat city council to challenge court decision

A Catalan independence flag, known as 'estelada' in Catalan (by Núria Julià)
A Catalan independence flag, known as 'estelada' in Catalan (by Núria Julià) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

July 25, 2018 03:04 PM

Spain’s high court in Catalonia (TSJC) has ruled against the city council of Sant Cugat del Vallès for hanging an independence flag (called an ‘estelada’) in a public square, following a lawsuit launched by a unionist organization.

Partisan symbols violate the principle of institutional neutrality and are therefore illegal, according to the court. The flag was deemed as “obviously partisan", representing only a fraction of citizens, and not recognized as the official symbol of any administration.

The ruling—the first on the matter of independence flags and partisan symbols in public spaces—will be challenged by the city council at Spain’s Supreme Court.

Carmela Fortuny, the mayor of Sant Cugat and member of pro-independence PDeCAT party, said the court had made a “very restrictive" decision due to the current political context.

‘Estelades’ can be seen hanging in balconies all across Catalonia since the push for independence set off eight years ago, including those of city councils ruled by pro-independence parties. While the ruling will not automatically apply to other towns, the same criteria could prevail in similar judicial cases.

Catalan Civil Society (SCC), the organization that sued Sant Cugat, said that “everyone who considers themselves a democrat should abide by this ruling and act accordingly.”

The case started when SCC launched a lawsuit against Sant Cugat, after the city council hung an independence flag in the Lluís Millet square in 2014. A court in Barcelona ruled in favor of the unionist organization, and Sant Cugat’s subsequent appeal was rejected by the TSJC.

The court stressed that city councils do not have the right to freedom of expression and therefore mayors cannot break the law by alleging they enjoy people’s support—even if a decision is backed by a majority of councilors at the local assembly.