The prosecutor’s office in Brussels says the former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, has turned himself in to police, along with several of his former government ministers. Now, a Belgian judge must decide whether to extradite the ousted officials to Spain, where they face charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds for their roles in Catalonia’s attempt to secede from Spain.
Catalonia, formerly a semi-autonomous region of the country, declared independence a little over a week ago following a disputed referendum last month. Spain swiftly dissolved the regional government and declared direct rule, calling for new elections in December. The ousted president Puigdemont fled to Brussels, while several of his former ministers remained in Spain and were jailed.
On Friday, a Spanish judge issued an international warrant for Puigdemont’s arrest. As NPR’s Lauren Frayer reports, Puigdemont happened to be on Belgian television giving an interview when the arrest warrant was issued. He said he would comply with Belgian justice, but believes Spanish justice is politicized.
The question remains whether Brussels will agree to extradite Puigdemont to Madrid. The BBC reports that a country can reject an E.U. arrest warrant if it fears that “extradition would violate the suspect’s human rights,” that the suspect would not receive a fair trial, or if it fears discrimination based on politics, religion, or race.
Meanwhile, protests continue in Barcelona, with pro-independence demonstrators holding signs depicting the jailed former ministers of Catalonia as political prisoners. One of the protesters told Frayer that he voted separatists into his regional government and “is appalled by how they’ve been removed from power.”
“Today I’m so sad because the people that I voted [for] are arrested and are in prison. I think it’s the most anti-democratic thing that could happen in a country,” Lucas Llobet told Frayer.
The Spanish government however maintains that it is preserving democracy by punishing leaders who broke the law by holding this illegal referendum, and then declaring independence.