ALGHERO, Sardinia (AP) – Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Saturday pledged to continue traveling across Europe to campaign for the region’s independence from Spain, but confirmed that he would appear at a hearing on October 4 to decide whether he will be extradited to Spain to face the sedition charges.
Puigdemont, a member of the European Union’s parliament who previously served as president of Spain’s troubled region of Catalonia, adopted a defiant tone at a press conference 48 hours after he was arrested on his arrival in Sardinia for attend a Catalan cultural festival, then released.
The Sardinian judge who released him imposed no travel restrictions pending the October 4 extradition hearing, suggesting that Puigdemont had the green light to leave Italy and close the case. But Piugdemont said on Saturday he would attend the hearing, “answer any questions the judge asks me,” and assumed he would be free to walk.
“My plan is that once the Italian justice says OK, your duty will be finished, I will return home to Belgium,” he said.
Puigdemont and a number of his separatist colleagues fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing they would be arrested after holding a referendum on Catalonia’s independence that the Spanish courts and government declared illegal.
Members of his entourage have called his high-profile arrest and his swift release a political “boomerang” for Spain, which earlier this month resumed talks with Catalonia’s regional leadership to resolve the political crisis which has persisted since the referendum.
Puigdemont has vowed to continue traveling across Europe to champion his cause and said the previous two days had proven he had the backing of European judicial institutions.
“Everything that has happened in recent hours proves all our arguments, all our reasons in our fight for freedom, so that democracy defends the right to self-determination, and the right to freedom of expression, to free movement, the right to engage. in politics, “he said.
“The only crime we committed was to organize a referendum,” he added.
At the heart of the immediate legal question is whether the warrant issued by Spain requesting the arrest of Puigdemont is valid. Gonzalo Boye, his lawyer, insisted that the European warrant issued in 2019 which served as the basis for the Italian authorities to detain him had been suspended.
The Spanish Supreme Court judge in charge of the case, Pablo Llarena, sent a letter to the European Union Agency for Cooperation in Criminal Justice Matters stating that the arrest warrant was “in force”.
This is not the first time that Spanish courts have tried to detain Puigdemont abroad. After a Belgian court refused to return him in 2017, the following year he was arrested in Germany, but a court also refused to extradite him.
Nine other Catalan separatists were sentenced to prison terms for their role in the 2017 referendum ranging from nine to 13 years. They were pardoned in July, but not Puigdemont, who fled.
Although Puigdemont holds a seat in the European Parliament, this legislature stripped him of his parliamentary immunity. Puigdemont said he was due to travel to Strasbourg on October 4 for a session of parliament, but said he would follow it remotely from his laptop in Sardinia if he had to.
Winfield contributed from Rome.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.