As Catalan president Quim Torra faced disobedience charges in court on Monday for not complying with an order to remove ‘partisan’ symbols from government HQ before the April election, the president argued that the electoral board “had no right to issue such an order.” Torra went on to admit to the court that he had “disobeyed” Spain’s electoral authority by failing to remove a banner in support of jailed pro-independence leaders, but he added that “complying with an illegal order was impossible.”

The row that has put the first Catalan president in the dock since the Franco regime tried Lluís Companys in 1940, goes back to the run-up to the April 28 general election, when the electoral authority ordered Torra to remove a banner it considered political. Torra addressed that aspect of the accusations against him on Monday, denying that the expression ‘political prisoners’ that featured on the banner is partisan, arguing that “it is a way of speaking allowed by freedom of speech.”

The president’s court appearance began with Torra refusing to answer any questions from the far-right Vox party, which is acting as a public prosecutor in the case: “Vox is a Francoist party, this country suffered 40 years of fascist dictatorship,” he said.

Torra risks a ban from public office if found guilty of disobedience for not removing the banner supporting the leaders recently jailed for the 2017 independence bid, but in court he argued that the electoral board committed a breach of duty by issuing the order. The president also spoke out against the use of the courts for political purposes, and referring back to the Supreme Court trial of the jailed leaders, said: “There’s great social consensus among Catalans who are disgusted by the judicialization of politics.”

Ideological symbols?

Next came several police officers testifying that they were sent to Catalan government buildings to verify the presence of “ideological” symbols, despite the electoral authority removal order. They all confirmed they saw symbols, including yellow ribbons.

After former government members and activists were arrested in 2017 following the independence bid and charged with rebellion and sedition, yellow ribbons quickly became the symbol that was widely adopted to show support for them.

Outside the high court, Catalan government spokeswoman, Meritxell Budó called Torra’s disobedience trial a “farce,” and added that it is another example of Spain “using the courts to resolve what must be resolved politically.”