Statement by President Torra after testifying before the High Court of Justice of Catalonia for disobeying the Central Electoral Board
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you are all aware, this morning I went to the High Court of Justice of Catalonia to testify in response to a complaint brought by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. I am accused of having ignored an order from the Central Electoral Board to remove yellow ribbons and estelada flags from all Catalan government buildings.
Replying to questions from the judge, I explained that the orders issued by the Electoral Board were impossible to apply and absolutely contrary to fundamental rights, including freedom of expression.
Looking beyond some details and technical points that some want to focus on, it is quite clear that the Electoral Board is acting with manifest bias and a clearly political intent when it comes to independence supporters. The Central Electoral Board is failing to act in accordance with one of the most basic principles that should guide an authority of this kind in any democratic country: the necessity of acting independently and without any partisan or ideological motive.
The actions, comments, articles and general positions taken by some members of the Electoral Board – against the independence movement and against some members of pro-independence candidacies – are widely known.
In my testimony today I also said something even more serious. The Central Electoral Board decision upholding the complaint brought by the Public Prosecutor's Office is void ab initio because it was issued by a body that was not and is not competent to issue such a decision.
Both Ciutadans [the Citizens party] and the People’s Party have taken this case to the Central Electoral Board because they know that there they can count on the services of Andrés Betancor and Carlos Vidal, who are known for their political positions and, as of yesterday, have had complaints brought against them for knowingly issuing an unfair decision – the one intended to exclude President Puigdemont and Ministers Comín and Ponsatí from the European elections.
The competent body for dealing with any questions or complaints during the electoral period was the Provincial Electoral Board, not the central authority. Given that the decision was issued by a body that was clearly not competent in the matter, it is void ab initio and cannot be the basis for any criminal prosecution.
I find it surprising that the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the body responsible for ensuring compliance with the law, did not recognise the manifest illegality of that decision.
For this reason, today I have decried the political manoeuvre intended to put me in the dock on a charge of disobedience or wilful neglect of duty.
The democratic regression, authoritarian drift, and violation of fundamental rights that we’re seeing in Spain are among the most significant factors driving those of us who favour independence to build a future in freedom with the independent Republic of Catalonia.
And the democratic shortcomings that I’ve listed are now a regular part of the landscape for Catalans and all democratic citizens of the Spanish state. But we cannot accept this. We must fight against the bad faith and lack of legal rigour that characterises the actions of many bodies, institutions and apparatuses of the Spanish state.
I've said it before and I say it again now: in defence of civil rights and democratic freedoms, including freedom of expression, you’ll find me on the front line, no matter the consequences.
A little fight won't do when it comes to defending the collective rights and freedoms that have been won through so much hard work and sacrifice. The president of the Government of Catalonia can never falter in the conquest of rights and freedoms. And if Spanish democracy cannot tolerate our defensive actions, I'm prepared to pay whatever price needs to be paid.
We are facing yet another attempt (one of many, as we see each week) to instil fear, intimidate, prevent freedom from prevailing – and keep the will of the citizens, of the people of Catalonia, from prevailing. But those pursuing this goal should abandon all hope.
They want to pretend it's just my problem. That's what they did with the presidents who came before me. But they're wrong. Catalonia is a nation that loves freedom, that respects human rights, that has struggled for and earned an existence that it has been denied. It is a nation that won’t accept defeat in its determination to exist.
Yellow ribbons are not a partisan symbol. They are a symbol of freedom and democracy. We call on the Spanish government and the state as a whole to stop using its institutions and the apparatus of power to pursue a strategy of repression.
This approach only strengthens our conviction and commitment. It also damages the image of their country around the world. We call on them to embrace democracy and the force of argument and words – to respect the voice of the people of Catalonia as democratic governments around the world respect the voices of their peoples.
Repression isn’t the right path. Neither is denying fundamental rights. The question we face today is, do we accept the democratic regression we’re witnessing, or do we stand firm against the use of organs of the state to persecute people for their political ideas? I didn't go to court to defend myself; I went to defend the rights of the people of Catalonia. I will always be at the service of Catalonia, democracy and freedom.
Thank you very much.