The Strategist

Arrest of Carles Puigdemont stirs the entire Spain

03/26/2018 - 14:22

The Spanish authorities opened a new campaign against supporters of independent Catalonia. On Sunday, the former head of the Generalitat (Parliament of Catalonia) Carles Puigdemont was arrested in Germany at the request of the Spanish Supreme Court. The court also issued a warrant for the arrest of four ministers who fled the country together with Mr. Puigdemont. In Spain, five regional politicians who are considered separatists were arrested. Barcelona residents, who disagree with the actions of Madrid, have been holding rallies and protest marches on the streets of the city for already several days.

Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya via flickr
Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya via flickr
Spanish media are broadcasting protests in Barcelona. Dozens of photos and videos show thousands of people filling the streets. Catalan flags are waving along with posters "Freedom to Political Prisoners!" and "Save Democracy!". The action was initiated by the public organization Catalan National Assembly (Assemblea Nacional Catalana) acting for independence from Spain, right after Carles Puigdemont was arrested. His supporters chose a symbolic route for their march - from the European Commission building in Barcelona to the German consulate.

Carles Puigdemont fled Spain in November, soon after the failure of the referendum on the independence of Catalonia, and was hiding in Belgium, sometimes leaving the country for lectures and conferences. On March 23, the Spanish Supreme Court issued a European order to arrest him and four of his ministers who also fled the country. On that day, the Catalan politician participated in a conference at the University of Helsinki. Finland received a request for extradition from the Spanish authorities, but it already was too late to arrest Mr. Puigdemont as he had already gone back to Belgium.

Without hindrance, the politician took a ferry from Finland to Sweden, after which he drove by car through Denmark. Carles Puigdemont was detained only on Sunday morning on the A7 highway in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, from where he was taken to a police station in Schleswig. Along with the ex-head of the Generalitat, there were four other people In the car, but their names were not disclosed. 

Spanish media claim that the employees of the Center for National Intelligence of Spain followed Mr. Puigdemont throughout his journey and simply waited for the most favorable moment for the arrest, allowing the Catalan politician to reach Germany. According to the EFE agency’s sources, this country is "one of the worst places" where Mr. Puigdemont could be arrested: crimes, in which the politician is accused, carry from ten years in prison to life imprisonment in Germany. Given the rigidity of German law, Madrid hopes that the German authorities will now agree to extradite Mr. Puigdemont to his homeland. Recall, the former head of the Generalitat is accused of embezzling state funds and organizing an uprising in Spain. He faces up to 30 years in prison on the last charge.

The issue of extradition must be resolved within 60 days. The Spanish prosecutor's office has already stated that in the near future it will give the German colleagues "all the documentation and materials necessary for the implementation of the Euro warrant," EFE reports.

Opponents of the independence of Catalonia were expected to be happy about the news of the arrest of their political opponent. "The escape of the conspirator Puigdemont has ended," Albert Rivera, the leader of the Ciudadanos party, wrote in his Twitter. "Attempts to destroy the European democracy, bypassing democratic laws, violating the principles of peaceful existence and squandering public money - all this cannot go unpunished, justice does its work".

At the same time, Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, member of the separatist party "Left Republicans of Catalonia" Roger Torrent made it clear to Mr. Puigdemont that his colleagues will not leave him in trouble. "We are in touch with the defense and the authorities of Germany. It's time to create a united front for the protection of individual and collective rights and freedoms," he wrote on his Twitter. His position was also formulated by Catalan left-wing radicals: they chalked out the inscription: "Llarena is a fascist" under the windows of the house of Judge Pablo Llarena, who issued the warrant. 

Meanwhile, the autonomy has been shaken with protests for already several days. The largest of the gatherings attracted more than 10 thousand people. Before the arrest, the Spanish court gave the Catalans several more reasons for discontent. On March 22, Judge Llarena brought charges against 25 Catalan politicians in connection with the illegal referendum on independence. 13 people are accused of organizing an uprising, others - in support of it. The next day, police arrested five of them - those who had already been detained in November 2017. Then politicians managed to be released on bail, but this time they will remain in custody. The Spanish authorities began to be afraid of escape after the Secretary General of the "Left Republicans of Catalonia" Marta Rovira refused to appear in court and left the country. "Today I'm starting a difficult journey. The way of exile," - says the letter of the secretary general, published in the newspaper El Pais.

Among those taken into custody was the representative of the coalition "Together for Catalonia" Jordi Turull, who claimed to be the chairman of the Generalitat, formally vacant since the flight of Mr. Puigdemont. On the day of arrest, the parliament was to hold a second round of voting on his candidature, but as a result, the procedure had to be canceled, and a discussion of the latest events was organized instead of it.