CATALAN president Quim Torra has called for international mediation to settle the political stalemate between Catalonia and Spain over self-determination.

Speaking at a conference at Stanford University, in California, he said Catalonia was at a crossroads with political prisoners jailed awaiting trial, others exiled and hundreds of Catalans being investigated following the 2017 independence referendum.

“Human rights are not negotiable, rights that help advance our societies cannot be suspended,” he told his audience at the university’s humanities centre.

“I talk to you all in the midst of the gravest situation Catalonia has faced since the death of General Franco.

“Last year we held a referendum of self-determination that was met with violence by the Spanish state … but we resisted and peacefully defended our ballot boxes with our own bodies.

“That day something new was born in Catalonia. Something from which there is no way back.

“Because you’ll never retreat once you’ve been so close to freedom.”

Torra said the commitment of the Catalan people, politicians, government and social leaders had made the referendum possible.

However, now they had nine political prisoners and nine exiles, and others under investigation.

The president said rights had been curtailed in Spain with rappers sentenced to prison for their lyrics, art exhibitions censored and even freedom of assembly questioned. Only international mediation would convince Spain that a political solution would have to be based on the people’s democratic will, Torra added.

“International public opinion is going to be crucial in the next months,” he said. “As long as there are political prisoners, exiles, and the rights of the Catalan people continue to be denied, the door will remain wide open for authoritarian countries to feel justified in repressing their national minorities.”

Torra said Spain had never fully transitioned to democracy 40 years after the dictatorship ended: “The police, the courts, the army, and a relevant part of the state’s high-level officials, that is known as the deep state, never really evolved from the dictatorship, and many are the offspring of high-ranking Francoist officials.

“The present state in many ways preserves the power relations and attitudes of the Franco regime. We can’t forget that the father of the king of Spain was promoted and designed successor by Generalissimo Franco himself.”

“We have had enough of the institutional violence used against our people ... violations of human rights ... of Madrid’s denial of the legitimate right of Catalonia to self-determination.”

Listening in the audience was Diego Muñiz, Spain’s consul general in San Francisco, who defended Spain’s position and asked Torra why the independence declaration after the referendum was not recognised internationally, but Torra retorted: “Where in the world is a referendum called and police are sent to attack voters?”

Lawyers for the political prisoners, meanwhile, have revealed that they plan to call King Felipe and former Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy as witnesses in the forthcoming trials.

Francesc Homs told Catalonia Radio that he wanted to know if the monarch’s remarks supporting Rajoy after the referendum were his own.

He said: “I have to ask the king if he made the decision to make the speech on his own or because Rajoy asked him.”