A FRESH battle of wills is being waged in Catalonia over an order from the Spanish Electoral Board (JEC) for President Quim Torra to remove eye-catching yellow ribbons from public buildings.

They are a symbol of solidarity with the pro-independence politicians and public figures who are currently on trial for their part in the October 2017 independence referendum, as well as the former ministers who are in exile across Europe – including Professor Clara Ponsati, the St Andrews academic and former Catalan education minister, who is in Scotland.

The JEC issued the ruling because of the impending Spanish election on April 28 – elected officials and public institutions are banned from expressing support for a political party or ideological position during a campaign period.

However, Torra had ignored deadlines before calling in the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribo, to consider the matter.

On Thursday the president ordered the yellow ribbons to be taken down, but they were simply replaced with white ribbons while awaiting Ribo’s findings.

A large banner remained on the front of the centuries-old palace that houses the Catalan government headquarters in Barcelona, which said in Catalan and English: “Free political prisoners and exiles.”

Hours before police were due to take them down yesterday, workers removed it.

The president’s case was that the electoral order was a breach of the Catalans’ right to free speech and yesterday he said he would appeal against the board’s ruling.

Next week, he said he would file a criminal complaint against the JEC over its resolution.

In a statement, Torra said: “The members of this organisation [JEC] see a serious violation of the law on a poster, but do not see any irregularity in the fact that a political party campaigns from the highway of the Supreme Court [Vox as private prosecutors], where two members of the JEC are judging several candidates in the next Spanish and municipal elections.”

Torra, who always wears a small yellow ribbon on his lapel, encouraged Catalans to fill the balconies of their flats and houses with stars and yellow bows.

He also had a new banner hung on the balcony of the government headquarters, reading: “Freedom of opinion and expression.”

Catalan opposition parties have criticised the socialist government of Pedro Sanchez for not taking a harder line with the pro-indy lobby.

The public prosecutor’s office announced yesterday that it was opening an investigation into Torra’s conduct for potential disobedience.

Meanwhile, in a separate ruling, the JEC has decided that a Catalan TV station’s coverage of a massive pro-indy march and rally in Madrid did not breach electoral law.

The Citizens party had claimed that TV3’s coverage of the event, which attracted more than 100,000 supporters to the Spanish capital, “lacked neutrality”, featuring exclusive content involving Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC).

However, the JEC disagreed and, in its ruling, said: “We cannot say that the coverage that TV3 and Canal 324 made of what was a unique and exceptional event was excessive.”