Puigdemont travelled to Belgium with his allies to raise the case for statehood at the EU institutions before Spain’s general attorney announced his intention to pursue charges. He has since said he will not return to Spain unless he’s guaranteed a fair trial.
The judge’s decision to remand the Catalan leaders in custody on the grounds they could be a flight risk has been condemned by politicians and civil society groups both in Catalonia and beyond.
ANC Vice-President Agustí Alcoberro described the arrested leaders as political prisoners, tweeting: “Vice-president and ministers, we will not stop until we secure your freedom.”
Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau, meanwhile, described it as a black day for Catalonia. “A government democratically elected at the ballot box is in jail,” she said. “There is a common front to achieve the freedom of the political prisoners.”
In a televised address on Thursday, Puigdemont branded the move a “very serious attack on democracy” and a “coup against the elections” due to take place for the regional government on 21 December.
As thousands of people protested across Catalonia, he said: “Imprisoning political leaders for fulfilling an electoral commitment breaks down the basic principles of democracy.”
At the hearing in Madrid on Thursday, nine other members of Catalan’s assembly - dissolved by the central Spanish government after the regional assembly voted to declare independence last week - were taken into custody.
Charges include rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds in order to pursue independence for the autonomous region. Only one of the former government members, who resigned the day before the vote, has so far been released on bail at a cost of US$58,000.
Lawyers for the remaining defendants said their clients would appeal against Judge Carmen Lamela’s decision, which they described as unjustified, disproportionate and predetermined.
Prosecutors, in a written request to Lamela, said Puigdemont – along with Meritxell Serret, former agriculture minister; Antoni Comín, former health minister; Lluís Puig, former culture minister, and Clara Ponsatí, former education minister – were aware that they had been ordered to testify, but chose not to.
“Repeated attempts to deliver the summons at home and repeated phone calls have been ignored,” they said. “For his part, Carles Puigdemont has publicly stated his intention not to appear and has requested… to make a statement via video conference, without giving any information about his current whereabouts.”
The Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced that the arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont, Antoni Comin , Clara Ponsatí, Lluís Puig and Meritxell Serrethad arrived in Brussels.
A spokesperson for the office explained to El Mundo that the documents will be "translated and examined on Saturday" by the Prosecutor General's Office. This will begin the process of search, capture and delivery for the Catalan leaders who have been accused of rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds by the Spanish government.
The translated warrant is expected to arrive "on Saturday or Sunday" to a federal judge. After examining the warrant, the federal judge will, despite no formal deadline, turn Puigdemont and his colleagues over to authorities, according to sources familiar with the case.
Once this unfolds, the sacked leaders will have the right to see a judge within 24 hours of arrest.
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