Catalan premier facing prosecution for separatist symbols

The regional premier of Catalonia, Quim Torra, is facing a criminal prosecution that could see him barred from office over his refusal to remove pro-independence symbols from public buildings ahead of the upcoming national, regional and local elections in Spain.

Spain’s Central Electoral Board (JEC) had instructed the Catalan regional government to take down the signs and symbols from the buildings that it owns or manages. These symbols include yellow ribbons, a sign of support for the pro-independence leaders who were placed in custody ahead of their Supreme Court trial, which is currently ongoing.

Torra was given instructions by the JEC to remove the material 11 days ago, and a deadline to do so by Tuesday afternoon. But the hardline separatist leader opted to ignore the order and instead requested a report from the Catalan ombudsman for advice. The Síndic de Greuges, as the ombudsman is known, advised the regional government that it should take down the symbols.

In response, Torra changed the banner on the balcony of the Catalan government’s main building. But it was swapped for an identical sign calling for the release of “political prisoners,” the only difference being the use of a white ribbon instead of a yellow one.

On Friday, plainclothes officers from the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, officially notified the premier’s office of the JEC’s instruction, according to police sources. The Catalan police had been ordered to remove the material themselves before 3pm on Friday. On receiving that notification, Torra gave the order for the material to be removed. Hours later, a new banner went up with the message: “Freedom of opinion and expression.”

Some sectors of the regional government, which is run by a coalition of the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), were uncomfortable with the fact that the Mossos had been drawn into the controversy. Regional departments run by the ERC had already started to remove the symbols from public buildings ahead of official notification by the Mossos. The regional economy department was the first to obey the JEC instruction and take them down.

Other departments from the same party had also started to remove the material earlier on in the day, thus avoiding the involvement of the Mossos.

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