FORMER Catalan president Artur Mas has hit out at a Spanish university for cancelling an appearance he was due to make after discovering that he was a person “very representative of Catalan nationalism” and that his presence could “damage the image of the university”.

Mas was scheduled to speak at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) in a discussion entitled Catalonia: Yesterday And Tomorrow, but organisers changed their mind, saying his presence would not be appropriate in “the current political circumstances”.

Talking exclusively to The National, Mas spoke of his visit to Edinburgh last month when he met First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

He said: “I noticed that in the majority of European universities there is a real respect for the right of expression. This is not the case in Spain.

“Unfortunately, in Madrid … I have been vetoed by one university and they are not defending but fighting against the right of expression – and remember the right of free expression is a fundamental principle and essential right of all democracies.”

The organisers have said the event will now be held in private with “limited capacity”.

Mas’s comments came as it emerged that the Spanish Supreme Court judge overseeing the cases against Catalan pro-independence leaders has not been able to prove the allegation that deposed president Carles Puigdemont misused public funds in the run-up to October’s independence referendum.

In a report to the Schleswig- Holstein court in Germany – where Puigdemont’s extradition case is being considered – judge Pablo Llarena said he did not have information from Spain’s treasury minister to inform the court in a “definitive way”.

Cristobal Montoro, the minister involved, has already told the Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo that no public funds were used for the referendum or preparations for it.

Llarena said he had asked for information from the treasury proving that there was no misuse of public funds.

He appears furious that Montoro’s intervention led to jailed Catalan politicians denying the charge, citing his declaration in their defence.

Puigdemont was arrested in Germany while returning to his exile in Belgium from Finland. German judges rejected charges of rebellion in their first extradition hearing, a serious blow for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government.

A former MP for the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), Mireia Boya, told how an angry Llarena threatened to charge her with rebellion when she accused him and the court of bias in their dealings with Catalan politicians.

Boya, who is accused of disobed-ience, told the news site VilaWeb: “I talked about the bias that he has and the entire criminal chamber of the supreme [court] in his actions in this cause. And I said… the sentence is already written or dictated.

“I told him that it was very incoherent to refer to the law of the referendum … that I was accused of disobedience, while the person who allowed the debate … Carme Forcadell, was in jail.

“And I said that this showed there was political intentionality and a clear bias in their actions.”

Meanwhile, a Catalan tutor at the University of Edinburgh, Silvia Ribes, has told The National how repression in Catalonia is affecting all sectors of society, from prominent political and cultural figures, through civil servants to – mostly faithful to the ousted government and suspicious of Spain’s direct rule under Article 155 – to teachers and other professional and non-professional workers.

“The Spanish state is being prolific in administering state violence and judiciary and political repression in Catalonia with incredible impunity to their overt lack of separation of powers,” she said. “On the positive side, this ongoing painful totalitarianism is feeding the grassroots surge for independence. What happens this month in terms of the formation of a government [in Catalonia, or split between Catalonia and exile, or new elections] will mark the immediate route for this struggle.”

Ribes also expressed concern about press freedom and censorship by Spanish state television: She said: “This is a relevant and real part of Catalonia’s population, glued to the central state media, and one that has been, as in Spain, indoctrinated to see the Catalan government as one enacting a coup, based on the total anarchy of the Catalan pro-indy leaders and civil movement. There are so many instances of the Spanish state breaching democracy we are spoilt for choice.”

Elsewhere, Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP) would retain a slim lead if a general election was held now, although it would be closely followed by the centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) Party, according to a poll yesterday.

It showed PP would win 24% of the vote while the unionist Ciudadanos would overtake the Socialists as the second party with 22.4%. A February poll put the PP on 26.3%, Socialists 23.1% and Ciudadanos on 20.7%.