Catalan leader on conditional release to await extradition decision

Summary

Carles Puigdemont, ousted president of Catalonia, and four of his ministers turned themselves in to police on Sunday but were released on bail

Must remain in country

The deposed president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and the four ministers present with him in Brussels turned themselves in on Sunday morning in response to the European warrant issued by Spain for their arrest.

Following 10 hours of questioning, a Brussels judge released the five politicians on bail, with the condition that they not leave Belgium, remain at a fixed address and respond in person to any judicial proceedings.

An arrest warrant was issued last Friday for Puigdemont (pictured) and the ministers for their role in “illegally changing the organisation of the state through a secessionist process that disregards the constitution”. The charges follow the vote for the independence of Catalonia on 1 October. If found guilty of the charges levied against them, they could receive up to 30 years in prison.

The five fled to Belgium two weeks ago after Spain’s attorney general filed the sedition charges against them. In a statement at the time, Puigdemont said that he came “to the capital of Europe to work in freedom and safety. We need your help to show that this is a political issue, not a judicial one”.

Although claiming that his trip had nothing to do with Belgium but rather with the capital of the EU, it is a Brussels court that must decide if the five in exile will be extradited to Spain. That decision must be made within 15 days.

‘A bridge too far’

If the court makes the decision to hand Puigdemont over to Spain, he could still appeal. The entire process could be drawn out until the 21 December election the Spanish government has called for Catalonia. This would leave Puigdemont free to run in that election.

Meanwhile, Flemish minister Geert Bourgeois said on Friday that he could understand the Spanish federal government’s concerns about Catalan independence but that their reaction with violence against voters and arrest warrants for political leaders was unacceptable.

“They need to stop trying to solve this conflict in the courts,” Bourgeois told VRT. “That they have resorted to repression – essentially opposing free speech – is a bridge too far. The solution is dialogue. That means no violence, but coming to the table.”

Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA

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