The president of FC Barcelona took a defiant stand Sunday against European soccer’s governing body, which has sanctioned the Spanish club after fans displayed pro-Catalan independence flags at the UEFA Champions League final in Berlin last month.

In an exclusive interview with the Insider, Josep Maria Bartomeu said the club has “always defended, and will always defend, freedom of speech. Futbol Club Barcelona has never banned its members or fans from expressing their thoughts and feelings in a peaceful manner in our stadium or when supporting our team when they travel.”

The response comes in reaction to a UEFA committee fining the club $33,000 on Thursday for a violation of guidelines prohibiting “the use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature.”

In Washington ahead of Tuesday’s preseason friendly against Premier League champion Chelsea at FedEx Field, Bartomeu said the club will not comply with the ruling and ask for the case to be reviewed.

“We are fully convinced that the rights of our members are untouchable and should not be given a political connotation,” he said. “We remain supportive of our members and the spirit of freedom in which this club has relied since its foundation 115 years ago.”

Barcelona is also facing discipline from the Spanish soccer federation Monday for whistling by supporters during the national anthem before the Copa del Rey final at Camp Nou stadium May 30, a game attended by King Felipe VI. Fans of the visiting team, Athletic Bilbao, from the independent-minded Basque region, also participated in the protest.

Politicians from the ruling party are believed to be pressuring the federation to discipline Barcelona. Among the possible sanctions is forcing the team to play a cup match in an empty stadium.

Political statements by fans have occurred regularly for decades in Barcelona and elsewhere, fueled not only by nationalistic feelings but economic discontent and other issues.

FC Barcelona has deep ties to Catalan nationalism. During Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, which suppressed regional cultures and languages, Camp Nou was a sanctuary for free speech and expression. The club’s success has helped spread the message of the pro-independence movement.

Banners proclaiming “Catalonia Is Not Spain” are commonplace in the city.

“This is one of the values of our club and we are not going to change, even if they decide bad things against us,” Bartomeu said. “I am the president of Barcelona, I am not going to tell people, ‘Sorry, you can’t bring your flag into the stadium.’ I would never do it because I respect them too much. It’s freedom of speech. It goes beyond football. We’ve been doing this for so long, why are you penalizing us now?

“America is the reference. You have a history that shows us how you can be independent and speak freely. I will not abandon my members, at all.”

Asked about the UEFA fine, defender Gerard Pique, a Barcelona native, said: “I find it completely unfair.”