Spain’s Supreme Court forbids “unofficial flags” on public buildings

A ruling has struck down the Council of Tenerife’s decision to fly the tricolour flag of the Canary Islands used by separatist groups

Spain’s Supreme Court has passed a ruling banning all “unofficial” flags from public buildings, a ban that includes flags representing all political views, from Catalan independence flags to multicolour ones. The judgement by Court 3 reverses the decision by the City Council of Santa Cruz de Tenerife to display the tricolour flag of the Canary Islands, which features seven stars and is used by local pro-independence groups.

The court ruling states that displaying unofficial flags outside government buildings and other public places “is neither compatible with the Constitution and current legislation nor with the duty of the administration to remain neutral and objective”, even if it is done occasionally and “with the Spanish flag and other legally recognised flags also on display”.

In the case of the tricolour flag of the Canary Islands hung outside the Tenerife City Hall, the court finds that it unlawful because “it is not the official flag and, therefore, it cannot represent the people of the Canary Islands, contrary to what the local council has argued”.

The ruling comes after the State Attorney filed an appeal against an earlier ruling by the Higher Court of the Canary Islands in November 2017 which upheld the decision of the local council and stated that flying an unofficial flag from an auxiliary mast on the outer perimeter of the building was legal.

In 2016 the council had agreed to raise the flag “as a collective symbol which the people of the Canary Islands feels represented by” and “an expression of the historic struggles of the archipelago for democracy, freedom and the greater well-being of its people, as well as promoting a tighter bond between the islands”.

Catalan president: “no court, no administration” may ban the LGTB flag or Catalonia’s independence flag

Catalan president Quim Torra responded to the ruling by stating that “no court and no administration of the state” may ban the LGTB flag or Catalonia’s lone star pro-independence banner. This was the Catalan leader’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s judgement banning unofficial symbols from public buildings. Torra voiced his support for the mayor of Celrà (near Girona), who posted a photo on Twitter showing the façade of Celrà’s town hall with the LGTB and pro-independence flags visibly on display.

President Torra was convicted of disobedience by a Catalan court for refusing to take down an unofficial symbol from the government building. During the campaign for the Spanish election the Central Electoral Board ordered him to remove a large yellow ribbon [in support of the Catalan political prisoners] on display outside the Palau de la Generalitat, but Torra refused to comply. As a result, the Prosecutor lodged a complaint against the Catalan leader and eventually Catalonia’s Higher Court of Justice disqualified Torra from office, a judgement that was appealed against before the Spanish Supreme Court, which has allowed Torra to hold the presidency until a final ruling is announced on the matter.

Josep Costa, the deputy Speaker of the Catalan parliament, has also spoken against the Supreme Court’s decision. He wrote a message on Twitter saying that the first flag to be banned was Catalonia’s independence banner and, at the time, nobody but independence supporters complained about it. ERC spokesperson Marta Vilalta has called the ruling “an attack on the freedom of expression”.

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