New Catalan premier to be investigated for hate speech

Prosecutors analyzing years’ worth of offensive statements by Quim Torra, who is being sworn in today

Spanish prosecutors are considering legal action against the newly chosen Catalan premier, Quim Torra, for alleged hate speech.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Hate Crimes and Discrimination is analyzing a series of articles and tweets published by Torra over the course of several years, in which he lashed out at Catalans who also feel Spanish, and at Spaniards as a whole. In one case he compared them to animals, using the term “beasts.”

The European Commission on Monday lamented Torra’s insulting statements, but declined to comment on them “so as not to dignify them,” in the words of EC Deputy Director-General Margaritis Schinas.

Two private groups, the right-wing Vox party and the the Movement Against Intolerance Association, have filed complaints against Torra for hate crimes described in section 510 of Spain’s criminal code, which punishes “incitement to hate, hostility, discrimination or violence against a group.”

Torra, a hardline separatist who has promised to continue down the road of unilateral secession, is due to take office today. He was voted in on Monday in a 66-to-65 vote in the Catalan parliament, after being nominated by Carles Puigdemont, who is in Germany fighting extradition to Spain to be tried for rebellion and misuse of funds in connection with his unilateral independence drive last year.

Meanwhile, prosecutors at the Catalan regional High Court are conducting their own investigation into the allegations of racism and xenophobia by Torra, and will share the conclusions with their colleagues to determine whether to take legal action.

Torra has admitted to publishing the incendiary comments in books and articles, and on social media. After being nominated for the premiership he sought to play down their importance, calling them a thing of the past and stating that he apologized “if anyone felt personally offended.” His tweets were deleted, but users had saved screenshots that were shared on the internet, creating a social backlash and accusations of racism and xenophobia.

Some of his statements include the following: “Spaniards only know how to plunder;” and: “Above all, what is surprising is their tone, poor manners, their Spanish snobbery, the sense of filth. Horrible.”

Reiterated hate crimes are punishable with prison terms. If criminal proceedings are brought against Torra, it will complicate his term in office, which he himself has described as transitional. At a joint press conference with Puigdemont in Berlin last Friday, Torra said he feels like a “custodian president.”

Torra has also expressed a desire to create parallel political structures outside the existing institutions in order to draft a new constitution for a Catalan republic.

A new Article 155?
His moves will be closely watched by the three Spanish parties that activated emergency measures putting Catalonia under direct rule last year, right after separatists in the Catalan parliament made a unilateral declaration of independence.

The governing Popular Party (PP), the main opposition Socialists (PSOE) and Ciudadanos are ready to reapply Article 155 of the Constitution, which is due to be lifted when the new Catalan government is.