A Spanish foreign affairs official has compared the Catalan independence referendum with rape, because the organizers of the unauthorized ballot went ahead without “the permission” of the authorities.

“Sex is not forbidden, like voting is not forbidden, but you can’t do it forcefully. You have to have the permission to do it, otherwise it’s rape,” Irene Lozano told Sky News. Lozano, who is the Secretary of State for Global Spain, which comes under the Spanish foreign ministry, was interviewed about the trial of independence leaders on the British news channel on Wednesday.

After the interviewer suggested that a prison sentence of 25 years for organizing the vote was excessive, Lozano said “that’s a matter of opinion,” adding, “it is the court who has to make this decision.”

Permission

In an attempt to clarify her statements, the interviewer then asked if Lozano was comparing holding the referendum with rape, and whether its organizers deserved to go to prison for 25 years. The official replied: “Perhaps I didn’t explain myself properly. What I’m saying is that any act is different if you have permission or if you don’t have permission.”

Asked for her opinion on the prison sentences that the Catalan leaders on trial might receive, Lozano refused, saying her personal opinion “really doesn’t matter at all, and I’m an official of the government and it could be misunderstood.”

Improving the perception of Spain abroad

Global Spain (English for España Global, formerly known as Marca España) aims to improve the perception of Spain abroad and among Spaniards.

The organization recently launched a controversial video ahead of the Catalan trial. Football Club Barcelona and the city council demanded their logo be removed from the video.