Carles Puigdemont leaves German jail after posting bail

Former Catalan leader urges Spain dialogue after being freed pending extradition proceedings

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont leaves prison in Neumuenster, Germany on Friday after posting bail. Photograph: Jens Schlueter/EPA

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont leaves prison in Neumuenster, Germany on Friday after posting bail. Photograph: Jens Schlueter/EPA

 

To cheers of “Freedom! Freedom!”, Catalan’s ex-president Carles Puigdemont was released from a northern German prison on Friday after 10 days in custody wearing a shy grin and bearing a defiant message.

Stepping out into the sun before the red-brick prison in Neumünster, the 55-year-old thanked his supporters for their solidarity, the German authoritites for their professionalism and deplored the “shame” of fellow Catalan separatist campaigners as “political prisoners” in Europe.

He vowed to continue his campaign for Catalan independence and criticised Madrid’s ongoing refusal to engage in talks.

“The time for dialogue has arrived,” he said to journalists, criticising how Catalan demands for talks had been met with a “violent and repressive response” from Madrid.

“Now, seeing the fall of that response, it’s time to do politics,” he said, calling for a “political solution of our demands, not by criminal law”.

A government spokesman in Madrid insisted Mr Puigdemont was not a victim of political persecution but “a fugitive from justice”.

He added the Spanish government had “met its obligations” by imposing direct rule on Catalonia after last October’s referendum on independence.

Mr Puigdemont’s release on Friday came after bail of €75,000 was posted, in line with a ruling on Thursday evening by Schleswig regional court.

Two days earlier German state prosecutors urged his continued detention until a final ruling on an European Arrest Warrant (EWA) from Spain.

Self-imposed exile

Mr Puigdemont has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium for five months since the October 1st referendum and declaration of independence viewed as illegal by Madrid. Belgium said it would not hand him over but he was arrested on March 26th, after crossing the Danish border into Germany on a road trip from Helsinki.

Spain’s reissued EWA cited three charges: sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds to run the referendum. After prosecutors dropped the sedition charge, because there is no equivalent in German law, the regional court in Schleswig dismissed the rebellion charge “because evidence of ‘violence’ is not present”.

The ruling deals a blow to Spanish efforts to extradite and prosecute Mr Puigdemont and other 13 Catalan separatist leaders.

With just one lesser charge left – misuse of public funds, with a maximum seven-year sentence if found guilt– the court said it would allow Mr Puigdemont’s release on bail pending its final ruling.

An Easter weekend march in Berlin drew up to 500 people, according to organisers, protesting against the detention of Mr Puigdemont and two dozen other Catalan leaders.

While Berlin refused to intervene in the independent workings of the judiciary, German opposition parties called for EU mediation in the long-running feud, accusing the Spanish courts of being biased against the Catalan separatists.

Spain’s justice minister Rafael Catalá said he would respect the decision, which he said shows “the functioning of an independent judiciary, here in Spain, in Germany and in all the countries of the EU”.