UPDATED – 29 March at 8am
Clara Ponsatí was finally released on Tuesday night at around 11pm, after declaring before a Barcelona judge following her arrest (see original report below). She faces charges of disobedience, an offence that does not carry a prison term, but she had been arrested for not voluntarily appearing before a judge after returning to Spain.
Ponsatí was informed that Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena, the magistrate in charge of Catalan referendum-related proceedings, has called on her to attend a hearing on 24 April at 11am to be formally notified of the charges against her.
Catalan pro-independence MEP Clara Ponsatí has been detained in Barcelona by the police since returning to Spain after over five years in self-imposed exile in Scotland and Belgium.
She returned despite there being an open warrant for her arrest for her role in the October 2017 independence referendum deemed illegal by Spain [see background to political conflict below].
Ponsatí, Catalonia’s education minister at the time of the 2017 referendum, returned to Barcelona by surprise at around midday on Tuesday, after crossing the border from France by car.
The recent reform of the Spanish penal code and the Spanish Supreme Court’s subsequent revision of the indictments of the referendum organisers who have not yet been tried, including former president Carles Puigdemont, means that Ponsatí no longer faces sedition or its replacement, aggravated public disorder, but only disobedience, which does not carry a prison sentence.
Ponsatí first gave a press conference in Barcelona before going for a walk through the Catalan capital. She claimed she could not be arrested due to having provisional immunity as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), awarded to her by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The Supreme Court had said that if Ponsatí voluntarily appeared before the judge, then she would not be detained. However, Ponsatí let it be known that she had no intention of appearing before judge Pablo Llarena voluntarily, and therefore the court said that due to the arrest warrant being active, ‘the police are obliged to arrest her’.
At the earlier press conference, Ponsatí said her plan is to return to Catalonia frequently, while also working in Brussels and Strasbourg as an MEP.
She later tweeted a photo, stating: ‘The police are arresting me illegally in Barcelona.’
Background to Catalan political conflict
Nine Catalan politicians and activists were jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the 2017 illegal referendum, with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following pardons granted by the government led by socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, but they remained banned from holding public office.
Late last year, Spain passed a controversial criminal code reform that downgraded the two charges used against them, abolishing sedition and replacing it with that of aggravated public disorder, and also reducing the penalty for misuse of public funds.
Misuse of public funds can carry prison time of between six months and up to five years if convicted, but disobedience only carries a disqualification from public office. ALSO READ: Supreme Court maintains public office ban for 4 Catalan pro-independence leaders.
Els mossos d'esquadra em detenen il·legalment a Barcelona pic.twitter.com/nCPQWCVGqB— Clara Ponsatí (@ClaraPonsati) March 28, 2023
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