Catalan exile Puigdemont freed by Italian court | Sunday Observer

Catalan exile Puigdemont freed by Italian court

26 September, 2021

An Italian court has ordered the ex-president of Spain’s Catalonia region to be freed following his arrest in Sardinia, his lawyer said.

Carles Puigdemont must remain on the Italian island while an extradition request from Spain is considered.

He was arrested on a Spanish arrest warrant on Thursday.

Puigdemont fled Catalonia after leading a breakaway independence vote in the region in 2017. He later became a member of the European Parliament.

Agostinangelo Marras, lawyer for Puigdemont, confirmed to reporters outside the prison that he “could be released from today”.

Italian police were waiting for the former Catalan president at Alghero airport in Sardinia on Thursday and he was taken to a nearby prison.

He travelled to the Italian island on Thursday for a Catalan folklore festival, his lawyer said, and was held overnight in Sassari prison, a short distance from the airport.

Spain accuses him of sedition but his lawyers say the European arrest warrant is no longer valid. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said “it’s clear that Carles Puigdemont must be brought to justice and stand trial”.

Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the Italian consulate in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, on Friday morning demanding his release.

Pardon for Catalan colleagues

The 2017 breakaway referendum prompted Spain’s deepest political crisis for decades, with the Catalan regional parliament declaring independence, and Madrid then imposing direct rule over the region.

After Puigdemont and two ministerial colleagues fled, Spain jailed nine other Catalan leaders for sedition for their role in the breakaway vote. They were pardoned by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in June.





The former Catalan president now lives in Belgium and his lawyers have successfully fought off a Spanish extradition bid in the past.

When he became an MEP in 2019, the Catalan ex-leader initially had immunity from prosecution but the Parliament voted to strip him of that last March. He appealed against the decision but in an initial ruling at the end of July the EU’s general court said there was no immediate risk of arrest.

There are at least two questions facing the Italian judiciary: the validity of the Spanish extradition request, and the powers of Italian judges when the case is yet to receive a ruling by the EU’s general court.

Spanish authorities say the European arrest warrant was “never deactivated”. And Puigdemont’s lawyers say that no court within the EU can execute a European arrest warrant until a final ruling has been made.