By Prarthana Mitra
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was detained on Sunday in Germany on an international arrest warrant after being on the run for over five months. Puigdemont is facing charges of rebellion and sedition in Spain and was intercepted on the A7 highway that connects Germany and Denmark, two days after Spain renewed the international arrest order.
Political turmoil has raged in Catalonia since October 2017, when the separatists were denied autonomy over the region by Madrid government. According to Puigdemont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, Puigdemont had covered 1,300 kilometres of the car journey from Helsinki to Brussels when he was stopped at 11:20 a.m., at a petrol station, 50 kilometres into German territory.
Political avalanche in Catalonia
In October, the Parliament of Catalonia voted to declare independence from Spain. Following the declaration, the Spanish government dismissed Puigdemont and the Catalan government, calling for fresh elections. Shortly afterwards Puigdemont was charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, which respectively carry maximum sentences of 30, 15 and six years. Following the charges, Puigdemont escaped to Belgium, as he said he would never receive a “fair trial” in Spain and refused to “abandon our (their) political project” due to the government.
Earlier this year, Puigdemont’s lawyers sent a document to the United Nations human rights committee stating that the Spanish government has “violated his right to participate in political life by forcing him to be in exile”. The letter was sent following Puigdemont’s withdrawal of his candidacy for the presidency of Catalonia. Since his departure to Brussels, Puigdemont’s supporters have called for him to be allowed to govern remotely, a demand that has been refused by Spain.
Protests in Catalonia
In Catalonia, the news of Puigdemont’s arrest sparked immediate outrage as pro-independence groups occupied the streets of Barcelona, vandalising police vans and demanding Puigdemont’s release. Official reports of clashes with riot police claim that an angry mob had to be quelled by any means possible, on their way to the office of the Spanish government’s representative.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has not yet responded to the arrest. However, Albert Rivera, leader of the anti-secession party Ciudadanos said in an interview with the New York Times, that the former leader cannot be allowed to “enjoy impunity” after trying to “destroy a European democracy.”
Ines Arrimadas, leader of the pro-Spain Citizens party- which has the maximum seats in the Catalonia parliament- said in an interview with the Independent he thinks the protests showcased “society broken in two” by the secessionist movement.
“Puigdemont knew that fracturing Catalan society into two parts, spending public money on illegal activities, provoking a political and institutional crisis without precedents and confronting a 21st-century democracy of the European Union was going to have consequences,” he said.
Roger Torrent, the pro-independence speaker of the Catalan Parliament, tweeted on Sunday urging Catalans to form “a common front” in the interest of individual and collective rights.
What could happen?
German local newspaper Kieler Nachrichten has reported that Puigdemont might be applying for asylum in Germany, however, it is very unlikely that the application will be able to override a European arrest warrant.
As per the rules of the warrant, Germany has 60 days to make the decision whether or not to extradite Puigdemont to Spain. If the former leader surrenders to be prosecuted then the decision must be made within 10 days. Puigdemont is set to appear before a German judge on Monday.