Spanish authorities revoked European and international arrest warrants for former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and other leading separatist politicians currently in exile.
Pablo Llarena, a Spanish judge, said in a ruling on Thursday the decision had been taken in response to a German court’s refusal to allow Puigdemont’s extradition to Spain on charges of rebellion over his role in Catalonia’s controversial independence referendum last October.
The European and international arrest warrants for five other separatist leaders who, alongside Puigdemont played a role in the vote, were also dropped.
All six fled Spain after the central government in Madrid stripped Catalonia of its autonomy and imposed direct rule on the region after separatist leaders declared independence shortly after the October 1 referendum.
Llarena’s decision clears Puidgemont and the others – scattered in Scotland, Belgium and Switzerland – to move across borders without fear of arrest.
Spanish arrest warrants for all six remain open, however, meaning they will be detained should they attempt to re-enter the country.
The former Catalan president said Thursday’s ruling exposed the “main lie sustained by the [Spanish] state”.
“We will fight to the end and win,” Puigdemont said on Twitter. “Withdrawing the European arrest warrants demonstrates the immense weakness of this case.”
The independence referendum went ahead despite a court ban and was marred by police violence.
Puigdemont and three others were charged with rebellion and a range of other lesser offences following Catalonia’s declaration of independence from Spain. Rebellion carries a maximum of 30 years in prison there.
The other two separatist leaders in exile are charged with disobedience and misuse of public funds, but not rebellion.
Nine other Catalan leaders are in custody in Spain awaiting trial.
Aamer Anwar, a lawyer for former Catalan education minister Clara Ponsati who is now a university professor in Scotland, said the judge’s decision was “excellent news, with regards to my client Clara Ponsati, and obviously for Puigdemont… But we tread cautiously.
“The question that arises is whether the Spanish government are willing to allow Mr Puigdemont to simply return back to Catalonia and declare independence… I suspect not.”