Anwar to represent former Catalan minister in extradition trial

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Credit: Michael D Beckwith / Glasgow Guardian

Jonathan Peters & Georgina Hayes
News Editor & Views Editor

Ponsati is accused of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds by the Spanish state

University rector Aamer Anwar will represent Clara Ponsati after a European Arrest Warrant was received by Scottish Police. The former Catalan education minister returned to work at St Andrews University earlier this month after Spanish authorities rescinded the arrest warrant, a decision which was reversed on Friday.

Ponsati, along with several former Catalan leaders including former president Carles Puigdemont, stands accused of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, after a referendum in the region led to a unilateral declaration of independence last October. The Spanish authorities reacted swiftly, declaring the referendum and declaration illegal and dissolving the Catalan Parliament. There have been accusations of police brutality surrounding the referendum, with Spain being criticised for its stance towards the region.

Ponsati has instructed Anwar to represent her as she negotiates with Scottish Police, and he made clear his view that these charges amount to “political persecution.” Announcing his acceptance of her request, he stated: “there is no guarantee of her human rights in the Spanish Courts.”

Speaking to the Glasgow Guardian, Anwar confirmed that Ponsati has not yet been remanded in custody, but that arrangements will be made over the coming days. She is shocked by the decision to reinstate the arrest warrant, but is determined to fight the Spanish authorities’ attempts to extradite her from Scotland.

Ponsati’s future will be decided under the Extradition Act 2003, which ensures that a judge will decide whether to allow the extradition or not. The statute does not allow extradition if the judge rules that the case falls under a number of exceptions, including that the warrant was issued for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing the accused on account of political opinion. However, it is unclear if any exception can apply in this case.

Ponsati will likely argue that there will be “no guarantee” of due process in Spain. Anwar told us she could face “degrading and inhumane” treatment and that there is “real concern” for her if she is extradited.

In an announcement on Sunday, the Scottish government reiterated its support for the Catalonian people’s right to determine their own future, however they emphasised that Ponsati will be subjected to a legal, and not political, process.

Explaining the government’s position, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We strongly oppose the Spanish government’s decision to seek the arrest and imprisonment of independence supporting politicians.”

“The fact that our justice system is legally obliged to follow due process in the determination of extradition requests does not change those views.”

Despite the Scottish government’s support for the former Catalan ministers, they are legally required not to seek to influence judicial decisions. As Sturgeon explained: “Our police, prosecution services and courts are independent and are legally obliged under this UK legislation to fulfil their responsibilities. Scottish Ministers have no powers to intervene in this process.”

The extradition process includes the right for Ponsati to oppose the warrant in court, and this will now be the focus of her legal team.

Several politicians have already been arrested in Spain following the referendum last October, including Jordi Turull, the latest candidate for the vacant Catalan presidency. After a self-imposed exile of nearly 5 months, former president Puigdemont was arrested in Germany on Friday under a similar warrant to Ponsati’s. He faces up to 25 years in prison if charges of rebellion and sedition are reached.

In Barcelona, reports have emerged of thousands of people gathering outside the European Commission’s office and German consulate to protest the arrests and the jailing of Catalonia’s former political leaders. A spokeswoman for Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, Elsa Artadi, tweeted: “There is no guarantee of justice in Spain, only revenge and repression.”

The European arrest warrant issued by the Spanish authorities requires EU states to arrest and transfer the accused to the issuing state for trial. When asked about its use in this case, Anwar told us: “Spain is using the mechanism of EU Arrest Warrant to make states compliant.”

He argues that the European Arrest Warrant is “not appropriate” for this situation as it is usually used in cases of murder and drug trafficking. On the unusual decision to use the European Arrest Warrant for extradition, Anwar claims that the Spanish government are “bludgeoning their way through the democratic system.”

In using the European Arrest Warrant to attempt to extradite Ponsati, Anwar suggests that the “pindrop silence” across EU member states casts a darker shadow on Europe’s politics as a whole: “it makes us wonder what the point is” in European human rights law if the European Arrest Warrant can be used that way.