March 28, 2018 / 9:57 AM / 4 months ago

Defiant Catalan academic Ponsati turns herself in to fight Spanish charges in Scotland

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Catalan academic Clara Ponsati, who is wanted in Spain on charges of rebellion for her role in Catalonia’s independence campaign, handed herself in at a Scottish police station on Wednesday saying she was the object of political persecution.

Catalunya's former education minister Carla Ponsati arrives with her lawyer Aamer Anwar to hand herself in at a police station in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Ponsati, a former Catalan education minister who is currently a professor at Scotland’s prestigious University of St Andrews, is fighting extradition because she believes she will not get a fair trial in Spain.

She will seek bail and a full hearing for charges which also include one of misuse of public funds in the organisation of a referendum on Catalan independence in October 2017 which was deemed illegal under Spanish law.

“Clara remains defiant, resolute and is determined to fight back,” her lawyer Aamer Anwar said when the two arrived at the police station.

They were greeted by supporters waving the “estelada” Catalan independence flag.

“She does not believe that the Spanish courts can guarantee independence, human rights or justice,” he said, reading a statement which also thanked Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister who herself supports independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom.

“Scotland has been a true friend to Catalonia in her darkest hours,” she said, adding that the independence of the judiciary was paramount.

A Scottish court will decide later on Wednesday whether to grant her bail.

Several other Catalan senior officials, including the former head of the regional government, Carles Puigdemont, are being sought by the Spanish courts for their part in the referendum.

Catalunya's former education minister Carla Ponsati arrives with her lawyer Aamer Anwar to hand herself in at a police station in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

They say they will not get a fair trial in Spain, where the secessionists are locked in a battle with the state that marks one of Spain’s most serious political crises since the return of democracy in the 1970s.

The Spanish government denies it is prosecuting the Catalan separatists for their political beliefs and says their actions violated the Spanish constitution. A Spanish justice ministry official was not available to comment on the latest development.

Following the banned referendum in October and a subsequent declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed the assembly and took direct control of the northwestern region.

German police arrested Puigdemont — who has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium — on Sunday and he is being held in prison pending an extradition hearing in a German court.

The Scottish government is concerned about Spain’s use of a European arrest warrant against Ponsati and plans to raise the issue with the European Commission, justice minister Michael Matheson told the Scottish parliament.

Ponsati’s case, to be heard initially in Edinburgh, may become more legally complex, pitting Scotland, part of the United Kingdom but with its own legal system, against Spain.

Spain’s Supreme Court aims to try 25 Catalan leaders for rebellion and other charges which could lead to prison senetnces of 25 years if they are convicted.

International arrest warrants are also active against three other politicians who fled abroad last year, and five others are in jail in Spain pending trial. They all deny any wrongdoing.

On Sunday night, a demonstration in Barcelona against Puigdemont’s arrest by tens of thousands of Catalans tipped over

into clashes with police in which dozens of people were hurt.

Catalunya's former education minister Carla Ponsati arrives to hand herself in at a police station in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Reporting by Russell Cheyne; writing by Elisabeth O'Leary; editing by Stephen Addison and Angus MacSwan

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