University of Barcelona gets rap on the knuckles over statement demanding release of political prisoners

A court has ruled that it constituted a violation of the freedoms of ideology, expression and education

In October 2019, one week after the verdict was announced in the case of the 2017 Catalan independence bid, the University of Barcelona issued an official statement condemning the “police crackdown and brutality” and demanding the release of the Catalan political prisoners. Universitaris per la Convivència [Students and Faculty for Peaceful Coexistence] lodged a complaint on behalf of four lecturers and one student and now Barcelona’s Court 3 of Administrative Justice has ruled in their favour. The court has declared the statement null and void because it reckons it is a violation of the freedoms of ideology, expression and education. The University of Barcelona (UB) will also have to pay €600 worth of legal costs. UB sources have explained to this newspaper that the university intends to appeal the decision before the High Court of Catalonia, on the basis of university autonomy.

The court has fully endorsed the appeal arguing that the university is part of the public administration, not “not an institution of political representation”. “It is duty-bound to remain neutral”, says the judge, and “it may not espouse” any political views in particular, less so when those views “are blatantly at odds with the existing legal principles and values”. The court agrees with the Prosecution and remarks that “the current constitutional state is grounded in the strictest political neutrality”. Even though the UB argued that their statement was protected by the freedom of expression, the court has ruled that “it is an individual right which public institutions do not possess”.

“Invoking the freedom of expression neither justifies nor allows a public institution to take a political stance”. The judge goes on to say that the fact that the senate of the UB stood by the actions of the political prisoners is not only questionable but also “jeopardises the integral growth of students and faculty”. The court has ruled, therefore, that the right to an education has been violated. As for the freedoms of ideology and expression, Court 3 claims that the freedom to hold “any views, beliefs or convictions is necessarily tied to the freedom to express them in a society”. That’s why the judge has determined that the freedoms of ideology and expression were also trampled on.

“A severe verdict”

Universitaris per la Convivència have referred to the ruling as “severe”, as the court has dismissed the UB’s defence arguments. In a statement they point out that “a court of law has determined that a misguided interpretation of the democratic principle can cause a university to act against its own values”.

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