Saturday 10/16/21
POLITICS

Italian judge orders release of ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont

The Catalan separatist and member of the European parliament is trying to avoid extradition to Spain where he faces a trial on charges of sedition for his role in holding an illegal referendum on Catalan independence in 2017.
24 September 2021, Spain, Barcelona: A protester holds a Catalan pro-independence flag during a protest near the Italian Consulate General in Barcelona against the arrest of Catalan ex-government leader Carles Puigdemont. The former Catalan head of government Puigdemont has been arrested on the Italian Mediterranean island of Sardinia. Photo: Matthias Oesterle/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
A protester holds a Catalan pro-independence flag during a protest near the Italian Consulate General in Barcelona. Photo: Matthias Oesterle/dpa.

A judge in Sardinia has released the former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont without conditions after he was detained by police on Thursday on an international arrest warrant issued by Spain.

The judge's decision means Puigdemont is free to leave Italy. Initial reports suggested he would have to remain in Sardinia until a court ruling on his extradition was made.

The next court date was set for October 4, when the court will consider how to proceed with the European arrest warrant issued by Spain.

The judge, Plinia Azzena, ordered Puigdemont's release after the public prosecutor's office agreed he was neither a flight or security risk, though she stressed that Puigdemont's arrest when he entered Italy had been legal.

The Catalan separatist and member of the European parliament is trying to avoid extradition to Spain where he faces a trial on charges of sedition for his role in holding an illegal referendum on Catalan independence in 2017.

The decision on whether to extradite Puigdemont now rests with the Court of Appeal in the Italian city of Sassari.

Spain accuses Puigdemont of crimes linked to the banned Catalan independence referendum he helped organize in October 2017, which saw a huge victory for those advocating independence from Spain and enraged the government in Madrid.

Afterwards, Catalonia was placed under direct rule by Madrid. The referendum was ruled illegal and charges were filed against the organizers, most of whom were quickly arrested.

However, Puigdemont evaded the grasp of the Spanish judiciary by hiding in an SUV and escaping to France before continuing to Belgium.

Arrested on Thursday

Puigdemont travelled to Sardinia on Thursday for a meeting with independent local politicians on Friday, and was arrested immediately after his arrival.

As a Member of the European Parliament, Puigdemont is technically entitled to immunity. However, the European Parliament lifted his immunity and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg rejected his request for interim legal protection. A final decision on the case is expected soon.

The court had made it clear in its latest decision that Puigdemont should not be detained or extradited until the legal dispute over immunity is finally resolved.

Fulco Lanchester, an Italian professor and expert on constitutional law at La Sapienza University in Rome, assumes Puigdemont deliberately took the risk of arrest.

Lanchester says it was "hard to believe that someone who is wanted on an international arrest warrant and does not have immunity did not deliberately cause such an arrest."

"In my opinion, this was a deliberate action to draw attention to his cause. He took a calculated risk to seek publicity," he said.

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