Dozens of leading Spanish academics have slammed the head of St Andrews University over her support for exiled Catalan leader Clara Ponsati.
In a letter to the St Andrews principal Professor Sally Mapstone, they accuse of her "encouraging" protests against the Spanish judiciary and claim the Catalan Nationalist movement was behind "shocking" violence during last year's independence referendum.
Professor Ponsati, who teaches economics at St Andrews, is now subject to an extradition request by the Spanish authorities over her role in the former Catalan regional Government and its declaration of independence from Spain last year. She was cheered by hundreds of supporters in Edinburgh last week after appearing in court to fight extradition. Dozens of academics, mainly from Spanish universities and some in the UK, have raised questions over Prof Mapstone's support for the Catalan leader who returned to her role at St Andrews teaching economics after the collapse of the Catalan regime.
Prof Mapstone claimed last week there were "legitimate arguments" that Prof Ponsati was being targeted for her political beliefs and voiced concern over the motives behind the extradition request.
But today's letter states hits out at the "misconceptions regarding both Spain and the Spanish judiciary."
It states: "It is important to remember that Ms Ponsatí escaped to Belgium from Spain following the illegal ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ by her regional government. That is, not because of political ideas expressed democratically, but because of a series of acts destined to separate Catalonia from Spain against the law and the wishes of its citizens."
The legitimacy of the Spanish judiciary has been endorsed by the International Association Judges (IAJ), the letter adds, even following the "illegal referendum" organised by the Catalans.
"The violence of the Catalan nationalists has been documented elsewhere and it makes shocking reading," the letter adds.
Read more: Lesley Riddoch - Unwarranted silence over Clara Ponsati
"On the basis of the above, we, the undersigned, demand that Spanish authorities and its citizens are shown the respect that they are due. You are no doubt aware that your accusations against the Spanish judiciary are encouraging your own students to rally against Spanish judges."
Among the dozens of academics who have signed the open letter are Alfonso Valero (Principal lecturer, Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University), Ángel J. Sánchez Navarro (Professor of Constitutional Law at Universidad Complutense de Madrid), Federico A. Castillo Blanco (Professor of Public Law at the University of Granada), Pedro Martínez Ruano (Senior lecturer of Constitutional law at University of Almeria) and Manuel Fernández Salmerón (Senior lecturer of Public law at University of Murcia).
A St Andrew’s University spokesperson said: “In our statement we said there were legitimate arguments that Clara Ponsati may have been targeted for her political beliefs.
“It is not our place to say whether or not we agree with those arguments, but it is certainly the case that they exist, and quite properly should be tested in public debate and through the legal process.
“Our primary responsibility to Clara is as her employer, and in that capacity we are committed to protect and help her. As her employer, we are also a university that champions freedom of speech and the rights of individuals to express their views, even when those views are controversial and challenging to the status quo.
“In supporting Clara we are reflecting what we regard as justified questions about the motivations behind the proposed use of extradition measures in her case. We acknowledge too, however, as does Professor Ponsati, the rule of law, generally and in this case, and we would ask all those expressing views equally to respect that as this matter moves through the courts.”