As Clara Ponsati’s arrest warrant is officially withdrawn, Aamer Anwar challenges Spain to release political prisoners

23/07/2018
SeanBell

Ponsati’s legal team remains “on standby” against possibility that a European Arrest Warrant could be reissued

THE EUROPEAN ARREST WARRANT for exiled former Catalan minister Clara Ponsati was officially withdrawn today [23 June] at Edinburgh’s Sheriff Court, following the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision to drop its attempts at extradition last week.

Addressing press after the hearing, Ponsati’s lawyer Aamer Anwar welcomed the development, but warned that “there can be no mood for celebration” while nine Catalan political figures are still incarcerated and Ponsati herself remains a political exile.

Anwar challenged Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to release all political prisoners and allow the safe return of exiled Catalan politicians to Spain without condition, while also confirming that Ponsati’s legal team will remain “on standby” in anticipation of the possibility that a European Arrest Warrant could be reissued.

Ponsati, the former Catalan education minister and an academic at St Andrews University, was previously sought by Spanish authorities on charges of violent rebellion and misappropriation of funds relating to her involvement in the Catalan independence referendum of 1 October, 2017, which went ahead despite Spanish courts deeming it illegal.

READ MORE: Spain withdraws warrants for Clara Ponsati and other exiled Catalan politicians

However, the Spanish Supreme Court withdrew its EAWs for all Catalan exiles – also including former Catalan ministers Toni Comín, Meritxell Serret and Lluís Puig, who currently reside in Brussels, and Catalan politician Marta Rovira, who is presently in Switzerland – following the ruling from the court of Schleswig-Holstein that it would not recognise the charge of rebellion against former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

During a brief hearing this morning, Sheriff Nigel Ross told Ponsati: “As you know, the arrest warrant from Spain has been withdrawn and therefore it just remains for me formally to discharge you from the European Arrest Warrant.

“You are free to go.”

Addressing press after the hearing, Anwar characterised the day’s events as a “humiliating defeat” for the Spanish state, which he said had “unleashed a wave of repression attacking the Catalan people” since the 2017 referendum.

Anwar continued: “The Spanish state systematically used law as a weapon of war to try and eliminate their Catalan opponents, but they have persecuted not just politicians but also teachers, comedians, poets and rappers.

FORUM 30 JULY: Where now for Catalan independence? 

“The ‘decapitation and liquidation’ of the Catalan Government was the sole-purpose of the European Arrest warrants as Spain twisted and broke the law, but in court after court across Europe, Spain’s reputation has been damaged, the failures are spectacular and ultimately the warrants were withdrawn through the fear of failure.”

Anwar also revealed some details of the defence Ponsati’s legal team had planned to pursue at the extradition hearing which had been scheduled for 30 July, prior to the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision: “It was our intention to announce today that we would cite to court ex-ministers – Prime Minister Rajoy, Deputy Prime Minister Sorayas Saez de Santamaria and the Finance Minister Montoro, as well as international human rights observers.

“We were ready to argue that in the 21st Century a peaceful democratic expression of self-determination through the voting process is not, and could never be, a criminal offence. The calling for and holding of a referendum, regardless of its legal status cannot be criminalized.   

READ MORE: ‘Clara, we are with you’: Catalan President voices support for Clara Ponsati ahead of meeting with Sturgeon

Describing the Spanish state’s attempt to employ EAWs to extradite exiled Catalan politicians, Anwar said that these warrants were “never meant to be used as a tool of political repression”, and requested that both the Scottish and UK Governments raise this “abuse” with the European Union.

Anwar also stated that the European Union has been “complicit through its silence” with the actions of the Spanish state, “allowing its judiciary to wage legal warfare on a democratically elected Catalan Government, allowing its security forces to engage in indiscriminate violence whilst suppressing political dissent.”

Prior to the withdrawal of the EAWs, it was revealed earlier this month that the Advocate Depute, the prosecutor of the Crown Office acting on behalf of Spain, would attempt to charge Ponsati with ‘conspiracy to alter the constitution with criminal means’ and ‘treason’ under Scots law, potentially circumventing the difficulties faced in extraditing Puigdemont on the charge of rebellion, which is not universally recognised throughout Europe.

“There has been no prosecution under any part of the Treason Act since 1883 in this country, and sedition was abolished in 2011; these are archaic and redundant offences which limit freedom of speech.” Clara Ponsati lawyer Aamer Anwar

Anwar dismissed the validity of such planned charges, saying: “In Scotland, the law of treason has not been used for centuries and it is a common occurrence for people to call for a republic with no threat of prosecution. 

“There has been no prosecution under any part of the Treason Act since 1883 in this country, and sedition was abolished in 2011; these are archaic and redundant offences which limit freedom of speech.”

Describing the difficulties faced by Spain in trying to extradite other Catalan exiles, Anwar said that Spain’s legal strategy had “backfired spectacularly”, and argued that since the collapse of its case against Puigdemont in Germany, the Spanish Supreme Court has been accused “of being driven by vengeance, total contempt and lack of respect for international law and human rights.”

“The withdrawal of the warrants is a tremendous victory, but there can be no mood for celebration whilst nine Catalans are held as political hostages and Clara remains a political exile.” Clara Ponsati lawyer Aamer Anwar

While the EAW for Ponsati has been withdrawn, a national warrant for her arrest remains in place, meaning that she cannot return to Catalonia or anywhere under Spanish jurisdiction without being arrested – a situation faced by her fellow exiled ministers.

Anwar continued: “The withdrawal of the warrants is a tremendous victory, but there can be no mood for celebration whilst nine Catalans are held as political hostages and Clara remains a political exile unable to return home for at least 20 years.”

Anwar again invoked his repeated contention that Spanish repression demonstrates the enduring influence of Spain’s fascist past, saying: “If Prime Minister Sanchez is not dictated to by the ghost of Franco and is genuinely interested in a political solution, then he must move to release all political prisoners and allow the return of all exiles without condition.

READ MORE: Chris Bambery: The Catalan exiles have won a victory – now let’s get them home and the political prisoners out of jail

“In the meantime, we are advised to remain on standby as Judge Llarena could reissue a European Arrest Warrant as he has done in the past.”

However, now that a major challenge to her liberty has ended, Anwar issued thanks on behalf of Ponsati to her legal team, the Scottish Government, the SNP, the Scottish Greens, the STUC, Crowd Justice, the University of St Andrews, “fellow Catalans and Europeans” and the people of Scotland.

Picture: CommonSpace