Scottish court drops extradition case of Catalan independence campaigner

Extradition request from Spain for Clara Ponsatí was halted after she moved to Belgium

An extradition case against a Catalan academic and independence campaigner, Clara Ponsatí, has been dropped by a Scottish court after she moved to Belgium.

A sheriff in Edinburgh halted an extradition request from the Spanish government against Ponsatí, who had been elected to the European parliament in January 2020, after agreeing the court no longer had any jurisdiction in her case.

The court’s decision on Thursday morning followed a dispute between Ponsatí’s legal team and John Scott QC, the lawyer for Scotland’s chief prosecutor, who accused her of disrespecting the court after failing to appear for the hearing.

Scott, speaking for the Lord Advocate, the head of Scotland’s prosecution service, on behalf of the Spanish government, told the court Ponsatí had breached her promise to the court to attend hearings. She failed to tell the court she had moved permanently to Belgium and had quit her post at the University of St Andrews.

“The crown now has little option but to discharge her in respect of the current proceedings,” Scott told Sheriff Nigel Ross QC. “It is highly unsatisfactory that these breaches have had the effect of preventing the court in Scotland from hearing the merits of this case.”

His allegations were rebutted by Ponsatí’s lawyers. They insisted she had told the court she had moved to Belgium but was under no obligation to tell the court she no longer worked at St Andrews.

The court and crown had already agreed to return her passport, her lawyers said, and the Lord Advocate had long accepted she was not a flight risk. Sheriff Ross accepted that and dismissed the case.

Madrid accused Ponsatí of helping to stage an illegal and unconstitutional referendum in Catalonia which descended into violence in 2017. She became a celebrity among Scottish nationalists, many of whom backed the Catalans.

Briefly an education minister in the Catalan regional government, Ponsatí was charged by the Spanish courts alongside the then Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and other senior figures in the wider independence movement with sedition and inciting an illegal referendum.

Puigdemont and others fled Spain, leading to the Spanish courts issuing European arrest warrants against him, Ponsatí and their colleagues. Nine Catalans independence leaders were later jailed by a Madrid court for a total of 100 years.

In January 2020, Puigdemont and his colleague Toni Comin won European parliament seats, alongside Ponsatí. They now live in Belgium.

Since then, the current socialist government in Madrid has sought a rapprochement with the Catalan leaders. The nine jailed were pardoned in June this year. Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, called for a new “era of dialogue and understanding.”

In July this year, a court in Luxembourg ruled the European arrest warrants against Ponsatí, Puigdemont and Comin should not be enforced to allow them to move freely as MEPs, pending a full hearing on whether they enjoy parliamentary immunity.

Aamer Anwar, Ponsatí’s lawyer, said the Spanish government had not yet waived the arrest warrants but accepted they should not be enforced until a European court of justice had ruled on their immunity.

Speaking after Thursday’s hearing, Anwar said: “For Clara, the European arrest warrant was always an example of judicially motivated revenge by Spain. She maintained that there could be no guarantee of a right to a fair trial after the show trials of nine Catalan politicians imprisoned for 100 years between them and now pardoned.”

Ponsatí was the focus of criticism in Spain last year after tweeting apparently disparaging remarks about Madrid residents dying from Covid at the start of the pandemic. She was also asked by Jewish leaders to apologise after likening the reaction to the Catalan referendum in 2017 with Spain’s mass expulsion of Jews in 1492.

Contributor

Severin Carrell Scotland editor

The GuardianTramp

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