The president of the Government of Catalonia, Quim Torra, has sent a formal letter to the Central Electoral Board challenging the Spanish state’s latest attempt to limit freedom of expression and questioning the neutrality of the order issued by the electoral authority. By taking this step, the president is giving the Spanish state an opportunity to correct a position that violates freedom of expression. The head of the executive will not order the removal of the banner on the façade of the Palau de la Generalitat calling for political prisoners to be freed.
The text of President Torra’s letter to the electoral authority specifies resolutions in which the Parliament of Catalonia has repeatedly declared that the estelada flag is a symbol that represents an aspiration to freedom and a “democratic, legitimate, legal and non-violent” political demand. The president notes that “there is no record of any state institution having questioned the position of the Catalan Parliament” and concludes: “The character of partisan symbol that the Central Electoral Board’s decision attributes to the estelada flag is at odds with the resolution adopted by the Catalan Parliament and is a subjective interpretation.”
With reference to the presence of yellow ribbons on Catalan government buildings, Torra notes “the contradiction inherent in banning the display of these symbols on the Government of Catalonia’s buildings in order to maintain political neutrality”, arguing that the electoral authority’s decision “favours the position of parties that have systematically attacked displays of this kind”. The letter also states that the order issued by the electoral authority implies “recognition of certain ideals of parties taking part in the election”. The letter requesting that the electoral authority reconsider its decision also notes that on 21 June 2018 the Parliament of Catalonia rejected two bills proposing the prohibition of yellow ribbons in public spaces and on institutional buildings by an absolute majority vote, with more than two thirds of Catalan MPs voting against the bills (88 to 40). According to Torra, “The rejection of these bills indicates a clear position on the part of the Catalan Parliament in favour of freedom of expression in public spaces and institutions.”
The president also pointed out the difficulty of complying with the order issued by the electoral authority in view of the large number of public buildings all over Catalonia where government services are provided, noting that in many cases these building are not owned by the Catalan government or managed directly by it. “In my functions as president of the Government of Catalonia, I have a duty to respect the fundamental right to freedom of expression of public employees,” Torra said.