Brussels, Belgium—Sacked Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and four members of his cabinet have surrendered to the Belgian authorities. Their surrender came after a Spanish judge issued a warrant for their arrest on Friday morning. Puigdemont and his close political associates are charged with rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust. If sentenced, they face up to 30 years in jail.
The Catalans had fled Catalonia last week when the Spanish Government triggered Article 155 and imposed direct rule on Catalonia. These measures were a response to an illegal independence referendum and the unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan Parliament that followed it.
On Monday morning, Belgian authorities decided to release the five Catalans under the condition that they appear at court within 15 days. Then, and if Belgium decides to arrest them, it’ll have 60 days to handle them to the Spanish police. However, appeals may protract the process.
Under the European Arrest Warrant system, which both Belgium and Spain have signed, extradition within the EU is quite fast. With that said, the Belgian authorities can still opt to ignore the Spanish warrant if they believe an extradition would violate the suspect’s rights.
Puigdemont had previously said that he wouldn’t face the Spanish legislative without guarantees for a fair trial. Meanwhile, eight other members of his cabinet have already been arrested. Former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras is one of them. Puigdemont called their arrests, “an act that breaks with the basic principles of democracy.” He demanded their immediate release.
Words speak loud, but actions speak louder; Puigdemont’s actions hitherto reflect bad on his leadership. The captain should be the last to abandon ship, not the first. It will be interesting to see if Belgium decides to reject the warrant. The European Union, which has its de facto capital in Brussels, has already voiced its support for the Spanish Government. Meanwhile in Catalonia, regional elections to decide the region’s future will place on December 21st as scheduled. This might get sticky–stay tuned for updates.
Featured image: A police van believed to be carrying ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont leaves the Brussels Prosecutor’s office, in Brussels on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017 (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert).