Barcelona angry over ban on Catalan 'estelada' flags for Copa del Rey

Barcelona have reacted angrily to a decision to ban "estelada" Catalan nationalist flags from Sunday's Copa del Rey final against Sevilla in Madrid, saying their fans' "freedom of expression" is being denied.

Spain's "King's Cup" final is often a scene of political protest, such as when Barca and Athletic Bilbao fans loudly whistled the national anthem and King Felipe VI at the Camp Nou last year.

Authorities in the Spanish capital have decided to clamp down on such possible behaviour ahead of the 2016 final, being played at Atletico Madrid's Estadio Vicente Calderon, with government delegate Concepcion Dancausa invoking a law against symbols or banners that "incite, foment or support violent or terrorist behaviour."

Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau have both said they will not attend the final in protest.

Barca issued an official statement reacting to the government's ruling, saying such actions were an attack on their fans' universal and fundamental human rights.

"FC Barcelona expresses, in the most absolute terms, its total and complete disagreement with the announcement prohibiting the display of Estelada flags at the final of the Copa del Rey, to be played this Sunday night," the statement read. "The ban was announced on Wednesday by the Spanish government's representative in the Community of Madrid.

"FC Barcelona considers the decision to be an attack on the freedom of expression, the fundamental right of each and every individual to express their ideas and opinions freely and without censorship, a right which is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. FC Barcelona has always defended, and will continue to defend, the freedom of expression of all its members and fans, who have always displayed a high level of civility and respect.

"FC Barcelona calls for the use of common sense and responsibility and demands the government representative's cooperation in creating the good atmosphere a match such as the Copa del Rey final deserves. FC Barcelona also implores the representative to respect the honour of the institutions involved in this final and to avoid causing any uncomfortable situations."

The controversy follows Barca vice-president Carles Vilarrubi saying it was "monstrous" that his club were fined a total of €70,000 by UEFA in October when "estelada" flags were flown at the Camp Nou during Champions League games.

Catalan flags have long been flown at Barcelona matches, but there is a distinction between the pro-independence estelada, which also features a white star on a blue triangle, and the more neutral senyera, which has a red star on yellow triangle.

The issue been picked up by a number of Spanish and Catalan politicians, and not just those who traditionally back Catalan nationalism. Barcelona mayor Colau, a left-wing protest movement leader who defeated a nationalist opponent to take office, said she agreed with club's stance.

"The banning of 'estalades' from the Copa del Rei [Catalan] is an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression," Colau wrote on Twitter. "The PP government [in Madrid] must rectify this.

"If the ban remains in place I will not attend the final as a protest, along with Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. I have communicated my total support to the Barcelona president. We will celebrate with the team on their return, with the flags that anyone wants to bring."