Spanish court upholds ban on Catalan leader

By Raphael Minder

The Supreme Court of Spain on Monday upheld a ruling barring the separatist leader of Catalonia from public office, a decision that could renew tensions in the restive northeastern region.

The Catalan police force had put officers on high alert for possible protests before the decision, which confirmed a December ruling against the separatist leader, Quim Torra, president of the regional government of Catalonia.

The verdict Monday threw Catalan politics once more into turmoil. Torra is expected to be replaced in office by his deputy, Pere Aragonès, who represents a different separatist party. Torra had intended to hold an early election to shore up support for the separatist movement this year, but that plan was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic that has hit Spain particularly hard. Catalans are now expected to instead elect a new parliament early next year.

Torra’s case is part of a long series of clashes pitting Spain’s central government and its judiciary against Catalan leaders who favor independence. Politicians have failed for years to resolve the secessionist deadlock, and it has increasingly been left to judges to handle, while continuing to split Catalan society down the middle.

The case against Torra is centered on his refusal last year to take down yellow ribbons and other signs displaying solidarity with the separatist movement, in defiance of an order by the electoral commission in Madrid. The commission had instructed that all partisan symbols should be removed from public buildings during the political campaign leading up to a Spanish election in April 2019.

The ribbons had become a way of showing support for separatist leaders who were sentenced later in 2019 for having made an unsuccessful attempt to declare independence two years earlier. A court in Barcelona ruled in December that his refusal to clear the ribbons and other symbols amounted to civil disobedience, barring him from office for 18 months and prompting Torra to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Torra was selected in 2018 as the replacement leader of Catalonia by the separatist majority of lawmakers that controls the regional parliament. The previous office holder, Carles Puigdemont, was ousted by the Spanish government in October 2017 over the illegal attempt to secede.

Since then, Puigdemont has been fighting efforts to extradite him from Belgium to stand trial for his part in the failed independence effort. Although sidelined abroad, he has continued to wield influence over Catalan politics, as well as winning a seat in the European Parliament last year, which he was barred from taking.

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