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Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont freed from Sardinian jail ahead of extradition case

The MEP is wanted in Spain for sedition for leading a secession bid for the Catalonia region.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Sep 24th 2021, 6:55 PM

CATALAN SEPARATIST LEADER Carles Puigdemont has left a jail in Sardinia after a judge ruled he could go free pending an 4 October hearing on his extradition to Spain, where he is wanted for sedition.

Puigdemont, the former president of Spain’s Catalonia region and a member of the European Parliament, left the jail in Sassari a day after he had been detained by police.

He had been invited to attend a Catalan cultural event and a meeting of Sardinian independence sympathisers on the Mediterranean island.

Hours before his release on Friday, Judge Plinia Clara Azzena ruled that Puigdemont was free to travel without restrictions.

The judge told the Associated Press that while she found his arrest to be valid, based on the documentation she examined, “we didn’t restrict him in any way. He can travel” if he wants.

Judge Azzena and two other judges will hold a hearing on 4 October to rule on extradition.

Puigdemont’s Italian lawyer, Agostinangelo Marras, said the three-judge panel will take up the extradition request and decide whether it has merits. He said the process is expected to take “a few weeks”.

Arrest

The Catalan leader – who has been based in Belgium since the 2017 referendum – was detained in Alghero, Sardinia, his chief of staff Josep Lluis Alay wrote on Twitter.

“At his arrival at Alghero airport, he was arrested by Italian police. Tomorrow [Friday], he’ll appear before the judges of the court of appeal of Sassari, who will decide whether to let him go or extradite him,” Alay said.

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, tweeted that the exiled separatist leader was arrested on his arrival in Italy, where he was travelling in his capacity as an MEP for a cultural festival there.

He said the arrest was made on the basis of a warrant issued in October 2019 that had since been suspended.

Puigdemont, 58, is wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition over his attempts to have the Catalan region break away from Madrid through the 2017 referendum.

His arrest came a week after the left-leaning Spanish government and regional Catalan authorities resumed negotiations to find a solution to Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

In March, the European Parliament rescinded immunity for Puigdemont and two other pro-independence MEPs, a decision that was upheld in July by the EU’s General Court.

However, the European Parliament’s decision is under appeal and a final ruling by the EU court has yet to be made.

Following yesterday’s arrest, Madrid expressed “its respect for the decisions of the Italian authorities and courts”.

“The arrest of Puigdemont corresponds to an ongoing judicial procedure that applies to any EU citizen who has to answer to the courts,” the Spanish government said in a statement.

The statement added Puigdemont should “submit to the action of justice like any other citizen”.

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 ’Persecution’ 

New Catalan president Pere Aragones – a separatist but more moderate than his predecessor – condemned what he called the “persecution” of Puigdemont.

“In the face of persecution and judicial repression, the strongest condemnation. It has to stop,” he wrote on Twitter.

He added that “self-determination” was the “only solution”.

Quim Torra, who took over the presidency in 2018 following the referendum, described Puigdemont’s possible extradition to Spain as “catastrophic” and called on pro-independence activists to be “on high alert”.

Meanwhile, supporters starting sharing hashtags such as #FreePuigdemont, as the Catalan National Assembly urged people to protest Friday against his “illegal detention” outside Barcelona’s Italian consulate.

Besides Puigdemont, former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati are also wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition.

The October 2017 referendum was held by Catalonia’s separatist regional leadership despite a ban by Madrid and the process was marred by police violence.

A few weeks later, the leadership made a short-lived declaration of independence, prompting Puigdemont to flee abroad.

Others who stayed in Spain were arrested and tried.

However, Puigdemont did not benefit from the pardon granted in June to nine pro-independence activists who had been imprisoned in Spain.

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AFP

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