Former regional leader of Catalonia Puigdemont released from Italian prison | Courts news
The Sardinian judge rules that Carles Puigdemont can be released before an October 4 hearing on the extradition from Spain.
Catalan separatist leader Carle Puigdemont has been released from prison on the Italian island of Sardinia after a judge ruled he could be released ahead of an extradition hearing on October 4.
Puigdemont left Sassari prison on Friday, a day after his arrest by police. He is wanted in Spain for sedition for having led a candidacy for secession in 2017 for the region of Catalonia, where he was regional president at the time.
Hours before her release, Judge Plinia Clara Azzena ruled that Puigdemont was free to travel without restrictions. The order came after the prosecution agreed it was neither a theft nor a security risk, but pointed out that Puigdemont’s arrest upon entering Italy, on the basis of a European arrest warrant issued by Spain, was legal.
It remains to be seen whether Puigdemont will be handed over to Spain or not. Until then, he is not allowed to leave Sardinia.
Azzena and two other judges will hold a hearing next month to rule on Spain’s extradition.
Puigdemont’s Italian lawyer Agostinangelo Marras told reporters outside the Sassari court that when the judge asked Puigdemont if he wanted to be sent back to Spain, his client answered “no”.
Marras said the three-judge panel will review the extradition request and decide whether the request is valid. He said the process should take “a few weeks”.
Puigdemont followed the late afternoon hearing by video link from Sassari prison.
Police transferred Puigdemont to a prison in the town of Sassari on Thursday evening after being held under an international warrant at Alghero airport. Alghero, a town on the northwest coast of the island, hosts the traditional Catalan folk festival that Puigdemont was scheduled to attend.
Sardinia has strong Catalan cultural roots and its own independence movement.
“Freedom, freedom”, shouted demonstrators in front of the court of Sassari. They held signs in a Sardinian dialect proclaiming: “Democracy, the Sardinian nation supports the Catalan nation”, and held the flags of Sardinia and the Spanish region of Catalonia.
Puigdemont currently holds a seat in the Parliament of the European Union, although this legislature stripped him of his parliamentary immunity.
His detention has caused political unrest in Spain, where the subject of Catalan independence has been a subject of deep division for decades. Separatists demanded his release and scheduled street protests, while center-right parties said he should be brought to justice.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Friday during an official visit to the Canary Islands that he respected “all legal proceedings opened in Spain, Europe and, in this case, Italy”.
Sánchez, who recently opened direct talks with Catalan regional leaders, said “dialogue is the only way to bring Catalans who have different opinions together and to bring Catalans together with the rest of Spain”.
Just under half of Catalans want to break with Spain, polls show. Most Spaniards don’t want Catalonia to gain independence.
This is not the first time that Spanish courts have tried to detain Puigdemont abroad. After a Belgian court refused to return him in 2017, the following year he was arrested in Germany, but a court also refused to extradite him.
Puigdemont and a number of his separatist colleagues fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing they would be arrested after holding a referendum on Catalonia’s independence that the Spanish courts and government declared illegal.
Nine Catalan separatists were then sentenced to prison terms for their role in the 2017 referendum ranging from nine to 13 years. They were pardoned in July, but not Puigdemont, who fled.