Clara Ponsati: New European arrest warrant issued

Media caption,
Clara Ponsati: 'I feel outrage and injustice'

A new European arrest warrant has been issued for a St Andrews University professor over her role in the 2017 push for independence in Catalonia.

Clara Ponsatí, who was education minister in the Catalan government, is wanted in Spain on a charge of sedition.

Prof Ponsati, 62, denies wrongdoing and says she will resist extradition.

A previous warrant was withdrawn last summer, but the academic again faces being sent to Spain to stand trial.

The move comes after nine Catalan leaders were convicted of sedition over their role in an unsanctioned referendum on independence in 2017.

Protests erupted in Barcelona last month after they were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison by Spain's Supreme Court.

Prosecutors argued that the unilateral declaration of independence was an attack on the Spanish state and accused some of those involved of a serious act of rebellion.

They also said separatist leaders had misused public funds while organising the 2017 referendum.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Riot police in Barcelona tried to disperse protesters who set up burning barricades last month

Speaking to BBC Political Correspondent Niall O'Gallagher, Prof Ponsati said: "I feel a very intense feeling of outrage and injustice.

"A guilty verdict on the Catalan leaders is a guilty verdict on the Catalan people that went to the polls on the referendum day. So everyone will feel the verdict in their own souls."

Prof Ponsati said she did not regret returning to her post at St Andrews University early last year, having fled the Catalan capital.

She added: "I think I can be more useful as a free person."

Prof Ponsatí considers herself an exile, unable to go home for fear of arrest.

Asked if there were moments when she wondered if it was worth it, she replied: "Of course - but at this point all I can do is keep up the fight, and submit to Scottish justice if I have to.

"This is much greater than myself, I'm just one small grain of sand."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Prof Ponsati was given a standing ovation after addressing the SNP conference in Aberdeen last year

Prof Ponsati's lawyer Aamer Anwar confirmed she will report to St Leonard's Police Office in Edinburgh at 10:30 on Thursday where she will be detained and arrested.

The academic will then be transferred to Edinburgh Sheriff Court for a hearing where her legal team will apply for bail.

Mr Anwar confirmed Prof Ponsati faces a single charge of sedition and, if extradited and convicted, could face a sentence of up to 15 years.

He said: "It will be argued by Clara's legal team that there is no guarantee of a right to a fair trial in Spain, where most members of the Catalan government are already in prison or in exile.

"Clara believes the charge to be part of 'a political motivated prosecution' and submits her extradition would be unjust and incompatible with her human rights."

Mr Anwar vowed the extradition will be "opposed robustly" and said the academic is "deeply grateful" for the support she has received.

He added: "Once again she is taking on the might of the Spanish state and Clara is resolute and determined to fight and believes that Spain will never be able to crush the spirit of the Catalan People."

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A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: "We can confirm we are in possession of a European Arrest Warrant for Clara Ponsati.

"We have now been in contact with her solicitor, who is making arrangements for her to hand herself in to police."

Spain withdrew the previous European arrest warrant for Prof Ponsati last July, four months after she was arrested by Scottish police.

At the time Prof Ponsati argued that the charges against her were politically-motivated, and claimed she would not receive a fair trial if she returned to Spain.

The independence movement in Catalonia has close links with its Scottish counterpart, and Prof Ponsati was given a standing ovation at the SNP conference in Aberdeen last year.

'Perfectly planned strategy'

Prof Ponsati had been working as the director of the School of Economics and Finance at St Andrews University since January 2016, before being appointed as the Catalan government's education minister in July 2017.

She returned to work at St Andrews last year, having been in Belgium since fleeing Spain with deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and three other former cabinet members following an unsuccessful bid to declare independence from Spain in October 2017.

Catalan nationalists have long complained that their region, which has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years, sends too much money to poorer parts of Spain, as taxes are controlled by Madrid.

The wealthy region is home to about 7.5 million people, with their own language, parliament, flag and anthem.

During the Supreme Court case last month prosecutors argued the leaders had carried out a "perfectly planned strategy... to break the constitutional order and obtain the independence of Catalonia" illegally.

Carme Forcadell, the former parliament speaker who read out the independence result on 27 October 2017, was also accused of allowing parliamentary debates on independence despite warnings from Spain's Constitutional Court.

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