Friday 14 December 2018

Ex-Catalonia minister to hand herself in to Scottish police

Clara Ponsati. Photo: Reuters
Clara Ponsati. Photo: Reuters

Hannah Strange

Clara Ponsati, the former Catalan education secretary, will hand herself in to Scottish police today after they received a request for her extradition to Spain.

If the request is successful, she will face a rebellion charge over October's referendum and declaration of independence.

Amid protests in Catalonia over the Spanish crackdown on separatists, the dispute will arrive in a court in Edinburgh, where Ms Ponsati will appear to begin the fight against her extradition.

She will be represented by Aamer Anwar, a Glasgow University rector and human rights lawyer, who insisted yesterday she was the target of "political persecution".

Scotland has been one of the strongest sources of international support for Catalan secessionists, and the extradition case has drawn strong protest, particularly from nationalist politicians.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish first minister, has been forced to deny calls to step in, saying that her government has "no powers to intervene" in a process that is the exclusive remit of the courts.

But she said in a statement: "It is well established that the Scottish government supports the right of the people of Catalonia to determine their own future and that we strongly oppose the Spanish government's decision to seek the arrest and imprisonment of independence supporting politicians."

Ms Ponsati travelled to Scotland earlier this month to return to a post at the University of St Andrews, after four months in self-imposed exile in Belgium with Carles Puigdemont - who was detained in Germany on Sunday - and three other former cabinet members.

Spain's Supreme Court on Friday opened prosecutions against 13 members of the separatist government for rebellion and misuse of public funds, charges that could see them jailed for up to 30 years. Another 12 independence figures have been charged with lesser crimes, while seven international arrest warrants have also been issued.

The UN Human Rights Committee said that it would be accepting a complaint filed by Mr Puigdemont.

Yesterday, pro-independence activists blocked roads across Catalonia, with police moving in to forcibly remove them in several places.

The protesters vowed to "stop the country", in what they dubbed the beginning of "the Catalan Spring".

It is unclear whether the German and Scottish courts will grant the extraditions on the grounds of rebellion.

A previous attempt to extradite Mr Puigdemont from Belgium was dropped amid fears the judge would strike out the rebellion charge, which requires the use or threat of violence.

Ms Ponsati's lawyer told the BBC yesterday that they would be challenging the rebellion charge, insisting that there was no similar crime in Scotland and that "the only people responsible for violence on [referendum] day were the Spanish police".

Inigo Mendez de Vigo, a Spanish government spokesman, denied the separatists were "victims", insisting their "criminal actions" were an "attack" not only against Spain but the European Union.

Irish Independent

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