Sacked Catalan president condemns 'brutal judicial offensive'

Exclusive: In Guardian article, Carles Puigdemont says he fears he and his colleagues will not receive fair hearing in Spanish courts

‘This is not just about Catalonia. This is about democracy itself’

The deposed Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has accused the Spanish authorities of conducting a “brutal judicial offensive” against members of his ousted government and said he was afraid they would not receive an unbiased hearing in Spanish courts.

Writing in the Guardian, Puigdemont said it was a “colossal outrage” that he and 13 colleagues were being investigated over possible charges including sedition and rebellion in relation to their roles in last month’s declaration of independence.

“Today, the leaders of this democratic project stand accused of rebellion and face the severest punishment possible under the Spanish penal code; the same as for cases of terrorism and murder: 30 years in prison,” he said.

Puigdemont said he doubted that he and his colleagues would get a “fair and independent hearing” and called for “scrutiny from abroad” to help bring the Catalan crisis to a political, rather than judicial, conclusion.

He added: “The Spanish state must honour what was said so many times in the years of terrorism: end violence and we can talk about everything. We, the supporters of Catalan independence, have never opted for violence, on the contrary. But now we find it was all a lie that everything is up for discussion.”

The former Catalan leader fled to Brussels with a handful of cabinet colleagues last week, hours before Spain’s attorney general announced he would be seeking to bring charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds against them.

On Thursday, a national court judge ordered the jailing of the eight Catalan politicians and, a day later, issued a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four of his allies.

Late on Sunday, a Belgian judge granted the five conditional release. They will make their first appearance in court on 17 November when a judge will decide on whether to execute the arrest warrant.

The conditions of release include a ban on them leaving Belgium until their appearance in the court of first instance in Brussels later this month. With the extradition process likely to take months rather than weeks, there is growing scope for Puigdemont’s presence in Belgium to cause the country’s coalition government serious difficulties.

Belgium’s foreign minister, Didier Reynders, on Monday urged his colleagues to keep out of the Catalan crisis, following calls from some senior figures in Belgian politics for the country’s prime minister, Charles Michel, along with the EU, to do more to keep Puigdemont and his former ministers out of jail.

Over the weekend, the Flemish nationalist politician and deputy prime minister of Belgium, Jan Jambon, along with the the former Belgian prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, condemned Spain for its handling of the crisis, including the imprisonment of regional politicians.

On Monday, the leader of the biggest party in the Belgian government went much further, saying that Spain’s ruling People’s party – which was founded by a former Franco minister – was a prisoner of its own history.

The N-VA leader, Bart De Wever, told the VRT network: “You know where the past of the People’s party is, and ever more its present, and it is Franco, it is repression, it is jailing people because of their opinion, it is the use of violence against its citizens.”

De Wever, who has called Puigdemont “a friend”, said that what happened next would be up to the courts.

“First, it is a judicial decision, and we have to wait for it,” he said. “So, if there is a decision we will assess the situation. This is not a judicial conflict; it is a political conflict. You solve it with dialogue.”

The Spanish government has denied suggestions that the decision to jail the eight Catalan politicians was politically motivated. Last Friday, the education minister, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, pointed out the decision had been taken by a judge.

“There is a separation of powers in Spain and what happened yesterday is in the realm of the justice system and beyond the reach of the government,” he said.


Sam Jones in Madrid and Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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