The Italian police arrested the 130th president of the Catalan government and now MEP, Carles Puigdemont, on the night of Thursday September 23 when he arrived in Alghero to attend a festival celebrating Catalan culture. The town on the island of Sardinia has retained its Catalan roots and Catalan is still spoken there. Puigdemont was released at 6 pm the following day under the condition that he testify before the court on 4 October, although he was free to travel anywhere, as no restrictions were imposed upon him, according to his Italian lawyer, Agostinangelo Marras. In fact, he subsequently attended a meeting of a European Parliament committee on Monday 27.
Dozens of people gathered in front of the prison to welcome Puigdemont upon his release. “I thought this might happen, but we also knew how it could end, because the decision of the European court is very clear. It’s just that Spain never misses an opportunity to do the ridiculous,” Puigdemont commented when he emerged from the prison gates.
The proceedings are ongoing, but the Italian judge and prosecutor accepted Puigdemont’s defence that the European General Court (EGC) had determined he cannot be arrested, in what constitutes yet another slap in the face for the Spanish Supreme Court judge in the case against Puigdemont, Pablo Llarena.
What started out as a fright for Puigdemont turned out to be another victory on the international front. When he was detained in Germany in 2018, Puigdemont spent 12 nights in prison and the process took four months, but he was not yet an MEP at the time.
The arrest sparked an avalanche of political reactions and once again put a strain on the relationship between the Spanish and Catalan government partners currently sitting around the dialogue table. Both Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez and ERC President and former political prisoner Oriol Junqueras called for calm, the former stating that it was “more important than ever” to seek solutions through dialogue, a marked difference from his predecessor.
Meanwhile, speaking to the press, current Catalan president Pere Aragonés noted that the arrest “does not help the conflict resolution process at all” and does not contribute to “trust between the parties”. Aragonés demanded the withdrawal of the European arrest warrants against those in exile and stressed that the only solution is self-determination and amnesty. “The Spanish state has deceived the European court,” Aragonés warned. Meanwhile, Catalan government minister Victoria Alsina sent a letter to the President of the European Parliament, Italian David Sassoli, to intercede in the affair.
Puigdemont was due to appear before the court at noon on Friday 24, but his team of lawyers asked for the hearing to be postponed so that the Italian court and prosecutor’s office could have time to study the case. He was subsequently released on the condition that he return to testify on October 4.
The former Catalan President’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, said that he would ask the EGC to restore his immunity as an MEP, while Llarena sent the Italian authorities the “active” European order issued in 2019.
Puigdemont’s lawyer warned that the EGC “will feel deceived” by Spain’s tactics because the court lifted the MEP’s immunity “in the belief that all parties were telling the truth and acting in good faith.” “This has been seen not to be the case, since the Supreme Court is doing its own thing and the Kingdom of Spain something else,” Boye said, recalling that the Spanish Attorney General’s Office had informed the European Court the arrest warrants had been suspended.
The version of events given by the Spanish prosecutor was that Puigdemont could not be arrested in the exercise of his work as an MEP, as Puigdemont’s lawyer Gonzalo Boye stressed that the former Catalan president was scheduled to meet different Alghero authorities in his capacity as member of the European Parliament. “The Spanish prosecution has been wrong in its interpretations for four years,” the lawyer stated. And so internationalisation of the conflict between Spain and Catalonia continues to move from courtroom to courtroom.