The University of St Andrews economic professor Clara Ponsati is fighting extradition from the UK for her accused role in Catalonia’s unsanctioned independence referendum in 2017. Her legal team have argued that her position as an MEP gives her immunity, but the European Parliament has now voted to remove Clara Ponsati’s immunity. This means that if Ponsati is convicted she can potentially be sentenced to 15 years behind bars.
Professor Clara Ponsati has for the last four years been in the middle of a political and legal debate. She faces a single charge of sedition. This relates to her accused role of being part of organising the referendum for Catalonia’s independence in 2017. At the time of the referendum she was the education minister in Catalonia.
Catalan independence is considered to have been one of Spain’s most polarizing issues for almost a decade. Catalonia has a long history and its own language. It has become one of Spain’s wealthiest and most productive regions. Before the Spanish Civil War it enjoyed broad autonomy.
In 2017 the Catalan Parliament declared unilateral independence from Spain following a disputed referendum. Spain’s courts declared it illegal and the police cracked down on voters. This has evoked a political conflict in Spain. BBC reports that around 90% of Catalan voters backed independence in the referendum on 1 October 2017, however, the turnout was only 43%.
According to BBC Professor Ponsati was working as the director of the School of Economics and Finance at St Andrews University since January 2016, before being appointed as the Catalan government’s education minister in July 2017. Ponsat has also been a member of the European Parliament since January 2020.
Ponsati’s legal team has previously argued that her position as a Member of the European Parliament gives her immunity. This in effect means that she would escape extradition to Spain. However, the European Parliament has now voted to remove her Ponsati immunity, according to BBC. This means that if Ponsat is convicted she can potentially be sentenced to 15 years behind bars.
The European Parliament has also voted to waive the immunity of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and other Catalan separatist MEPs.
In 2019, Spain sentenced nine other Catalan leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison over their role in the independence vote, according to BBC.
The European Parliament’s recent decision has become a topic of controversy. The Spanish government has welcomed the European Parliament’s recent decision. It was seen as a victory for the rule of law and against those who sought to break the north-eastern region away from the rest of Spain. According to BBC, the Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya has said that the decision showed that “Catalonia’s problems are to be resolved in Spain and not in Europe”.
In a different manner, the Lawyers for former Catalan politicians have vowed to fight on after MEPs remove immunity. Ponsati’s lawyers argue that she was exercising the democratic will of the Catalan people.
Aamer Anwar, one of Ponsati’s lawyers, tweeted the follwoing, “Shameful vote by @Europarl_EN giving into Spain to lift immunity of MEPs @ClaraPonsati @toni_comin @KRLS Who face extradition & political persecution for exercising the democratic will of the Catalan people-The legal battle goes on”.
The full hearing of the case in the Scottish court is likely to start on 11 May.