SNP back Catalan ex-minister Clara Ponsati over arrest

Leading SNP figures have stepped up the pressure on Spain in the growing diplomatic row over the extradition of a Scottish-based member of the former Catalan regional government.

Professor Clara Ponsati, the former Catalan education minister, is expected to attend a police station in Edinburgh this week following a European arrest warrant being issued to secure her return to Spain to face charges of rebellion. Her lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said yesterday she could face up to 30 years in prison.

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Protesters held a rally in Edinburgh yesterday to show their support for Prof Ponsati. Around 60 people congregated outside the Consulate of Spain to demonstrate against the arrest warrant.

Clara Ponsati. Picture: AFP/Getty

The issue will be raised at Holyrood today when justice secretary Michael Matheson will set out the Scottish Government’s position after a topical question was raised by Nationalist backbencher Claire Haughey.

It comes after SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford wrote to the Spanish ambassador to the UK seeking urgent talks over the issue.

He stated: “It is deeply disappointing that as part of this pursuit of pro-Catalan independence politicians a former minister, who is a respected academic in Scotland, now faces charges of rebellion – a charge which is not recognised in Scots law.”

Christina McKelvie, who chairs Holyrood’s equalities and human rights committee, will raise the case when she attends the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg today.

Clara Ponsati. Picture: AFP/Getty

The independence drive in Catalonia was widely supported by Nationalists in Scotland, with the campaigns being widely seen as “sister” movements.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a statement on Sunday insisting she was powerless to intervene and stop the extradition.

Mr Anwar said he will oppose Prof Ponsati’s extradition to Spain under the arrest warrant as it represents “a systematic attempt to criminalise the desire for independence”.

Prof Ponsati returned to Scotland earlier this month to resume work at the University of St Andrews. She had been in Belgium since fleeing Spain with Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont and three other former cabinet members following an unsuccessful bid to declare Catalonia’s independence from Spain in October.

A Spanish judge issued arrest warrants on Friday for Prof Ponsati and other fugitive politicians including Mr Puigdemont, now detained by German police.

Mr Anwar said Prof Ponsati will attend a police station this week, then appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

He said: “I am instructed to oppose the extradition on the basis that this is a political prosecution of Clara and a systematic attempt to criminalise the desire for independence by more than two million voters in Catalonia.”

Professor Sally Mapstone, the principal and vice-chancellor of St Andrews University, said staff there were “deeply concerned”. She added: “We believe there are legitimate arguments that Clara is being targeted for standing up for her political beliefs.”