29 Mar, 2023 @ 15:00
2 mins read

Catalan politician Clara Ponsati, wanted by justice system for role in independence drive, arrested on return to Spain

Clara Ponsati Toni Comin Bruselas_1407169952_112204398_667x375

Catalan politician Clara Ponsati, who is wanted by the Spanish authorities for her involvement in the 2017 independence drive in the region, was arrested on Tuesday evening after she had returned to Spain for the first time in five years. She was released shortly after having been given a date to appear at the Supreme Court. 

Ponsati, who is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Catalan Junts party, is being sought by the tribunal to face charges for disobedience. 

She is among the several Catalan politicians who fled Spain in the wake of the illegal referendum held in October 2017 on secession from Spain, and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence in parliament. Among these is then-regional premier Carles Puigdemont, who is still living in Belgium to avoid prosecution in Spain. 

Ponsati was arrested at around 6pm on Tuesday by a plain-clothes officer from the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force as she walked through the streets of Barcelona accompanied by supporters. She had arrived in Spain not long before her detention. 

She was held for five hours by the authorities and will now have to attend the Supreme Court on April 24 for questioning. On Wednesday she flew back to Brussels. 

Around 300 people congregated outside the City of Justice courthouse in Barcelona to call for her release, while her supporters took to social media to denounce the ‘illegality’ of her arrest given that she enjoys certain immunity from prosecution as an MEP. 

Catalan politician Clara Ponsati
Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Former premier Carles Puigdemont, who is also an MEP, made a statement in the European Parliament on Tuesday saying that the arrest was a ‘violation of a fundamental right’ on the part of the Supreme Court.  

Before the police detained her, she made a defiant statement during a press conference. ‘If they arrest me, they will have to abide by the consequences,’ she said, in reference to the Supreme Court. 

Sources from the European Parliament confirmed to Spanish daily El Pais that they had received a formal complaint from the Junts MEP for the violation of her immunity, but that they had not yet responded. 

Legal experts are split as to whether or not her status does indeed protect her from arrest.

Whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court investigation, Ponsati is not facing jail time for her alleged offences but instead a fine and a ban on holding public office. 

The investigating judge, Pablo Llarena, has already dropped the other charges against her, such as sedition. 

This offence was removed from the Spanish Criminal Code by the government as part of its efforts to seek a political solution to the Catalan independence drive. Changes were also made to the laws covering the misuse of funds, another charge that was faced by the Catalan independence leaders.

Government pardons

These efforts include a move in June 2021 to pardon nine of the Catalan independence leaders who had been given jail sentences by the Supreme Court for their roles in the events of 2021. These included the former regional vice premier, Oriol Junqueras, and the former government spokesperson Jordi Turull. 

They were found guilty of offences including sedition and misuse of public funds, and given sentences of between nine and 13 years in October 2019. 

The administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is a coalition of his Socialist Party and leftist Unidas Podemos. It governs in a minority, meaning that the support of smaller parties such as the Catalan Republican Left are needed to pass legislation.

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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