Catalan academic to fight Spanish extradition from Scotland

Clara Ponsati is preparing to hand herself in to Scottish police, to fight a legal battle against extradition to Spain.

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    Catalonia's former education minister Clara Ponsati is now an academic at a prestigious Scottish university [Russell Cheyne/Reuters]
    Catalonia's former education minister Clara Ponsati is now an academic at a prestigious Scottish university [Russell Cheyne/Reuters]

    Glasgow, United Kingdom - The political troubles engulfing the Spanish region of Catalonia will visit Scottish shores on Thursday, when Clara Ponsati is scheduled to hand herself in to local police.

    The 62-year-old bespectacled professor at Scotland's St Andrews University is wanted by Spain on a charge of sedition for her role in Catalonia's October 2017 independence referendum - which the Spanish state deemed illegal.

    Ponsati was due to submit to Scottish authorities last week, but discrepancies with her European Arrest Warrant (EAW) delayed her case.

    The former Catalan education minister was first arrested by Scottish police in March 2018 after an EAW was submitted by Spain, which it withdrew four months later. Following the jailingof nine pro-independence figures from Catalonia last month, however, the warrant for Ponsati, who denies wrongdoing, was renewed.

    INSIDE STORY: What's next for the Catalan people in Spain? [24:51]

    Aamer Anwar, Ponsati's lawyer, told Al Jazeera he believed the warrant was withdrawn last year because the Spanish authorities were uncertain of prevailing in their action. But after the Catalan secessionists were given sentences totalling almost 100 years between them, he said that Madrid was now using this to show that a "fair trial was conducted which followed due process" in order to justify the current extradition request for his client.

    But Anwar has also claimed that the Catalan is unlikely to receive a fair trial in Spain, deeming the imprisonment of the nine leaders and the outstanding warrant against Ponsati "politically motivated".

    "If she's extradited and convicted then she could receive a sentence of up to 15 years," said Anwar, who stated that Spain's motive was to simply "crush the independence movement".

    "Were she to be extradited it would be unjust and incompatible with her human rights."

    Crisis

    While Catalan nationalists have long demanded independence for their north-eastern region, which has its own language, parliament and flag, Madrid did not take kindly to the 2017 independence poll, which it refused to sanction and met with a heavy police response.

    "Since 2017, the Catalan crisis has been the greatest political crisis in Spain since the early 1980s, which was when they had an attempted military coup," said British academic Andrew Dowling, author of The Rise of Catalan Independence: Spain's Territorial Crisis.

    Dowling told Al Jazeera that the current Catalonian troubles "speak to the essence of Spain and a collective sense of what is Spain".

    “If you ask Spaniards, outside of Catalonia, what they would feel if [the region] became independent then they talk of it in terms of 'it would be like losing my right arm'," he added.

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    But Ponsati has garnered great support from many quarters, not least the Scottish independence movement which has forged strong links with its counterparts in Catalonia. Pilar Fernandez is a pro-self determination campaigner from Galicia, Spain, who travels to Scotland often with her Scottish husband - and is angered that Spain has re-issued its extradition request for Ponsati.

    She argued that both the recent jail sentences and the EAW for Ponsati were not a way to settle the Catalonian political crisis.

    "It needs a political solution, and a political solution needs communication and good intentions," Fernandez said.

    As deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont remains in self-imposed exile in Belgium - also subject to an EAW - Spain held its fourth general election in four years on Sunday. The country's governing Socialists (PSOE) secured the most seats and agreed a preliminary coalition government with the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos party. In Catalonia, where secessionists have frequently staged fiery demonstrations advocating statehood for their 7.5 million-populated region, the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left party topped the poll.

    But in Scotland, Ponsati will begin her own fight when she hands herself in to Scottish police and appears before Edinburgh Sheriff Court for an initial hearing later the same day, as she prepares to resist Spain's extradition request.

    "I expect this [case] to be protracted and the size of this case has probably quadrupled from where we were a year-and-half ago," said Anwar, who predicted that any extradition hearing will likely now be more "complex".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News