Clara Ponsatí ‘never committed any criminal offence,’ says her lawyer
Aamer Anwar is heading the defense for deposed Catalan education minister Clara Ponsatí, currently in Scotland
Scottish lawyer Aamer Anwar is currently heading the defense for deposed Catalan Minister of Education Clara Ponsatí, who left Catalonia shortly after the declaration of independence in October 2017, going first to Belgium and then traveling to Scotland to resume her career as professor of economics at the University of Saint Andrews.
The Spanish government however reactivated the European Arrest Warrant against her and other dismissed officials abroad. Anwar accompanied her through the process, including appearing before the Scottish judge in response to the warrant, who ultimately ruled she be let out on bail while awaiting a final decision on the matter.
Anwar is currently rector at the University of Glasgow, and as a lawyer is known for his left-wing political views and human rights activism, having participated in various campaigns and movements. He gave an exclusive interview to Catalan News on Clara Ponsatí and the current situation she is in.
What is the strategy of Clara Ponsati’s defense team?
[The strategy is] to oppose the extradition attempts by the Spanish authorities. We believe that we will not get due process in Spain, we don't believe that the Spanish judiciary is independent, and that if she is returned back to Spain she can't be guaranteed her human rights and a right to a fair trial. We believe this is a deliberate attempt by Spanish authorities to criminalize a desire for independence.
“When they talked about decapitating the Catalan government, what they mean is denying the voice to the Catalan people”
Aamer Anwar · Clara Ponsatí’s lawyer
What are the differences between the criminal code in Scotland and the criminal code in Spain, regarding the crimes for which she is being prosecuted? Will this play a role in the extradition process?
Well, yes. Well... because Clara is charged with the crime of rebellion with violence, which is punishable with up to 25 years, in Scotland such an offence does not exist. In fact, it was abolished many years ago. The similar crime was one of sedition, so that's one of the arguments we will advance. But it's also a question of whether the crime that she is charged with is reasonable and proportionate. What Clara states is that she peacefully promoted the referendum, she's never committed any criminal offence, and the argument that the Spanish authorities are advancing is that they are holding her responsible for the violence that took place on the day of the referendum. But for many people in this country, and across Europe, who watched TV on October 1, the only violence they saw was the violence of the Spanish police and the state security forces.
What's the outcome that we can expect from this extradition process? What is the timing like?
Firstly, I hope that we win, and we're instructed to robustly defend Clara against the attempts to extradite her. In terms of timing, we're back in court on April 12, but one would expect that a case that is so complex has international implications, there's the rule of law, there's human rights implications, there's a question of Francoism, there's the question of the history of Spain and the judiciary. This is a case that could take several months, if not years, before it reaches a conclusion.
Clara Ponsatí is in Scotland. But there are other Catalan leaders in other parts of the EU. Do you think there will be a different outcome for them? What are the particularities of Scotland that could help or hamper her case?
Each of the European countries has their own independent judicial system, and their own legal processes for deciding the fate of the Catalan leaders. But, in Scotland, we're in a peculiar situation, where we've already had a referendum. So we have a situation where, for instance, the first minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government have been sympathetic to the Catalan politicians, have called for the rule of law to apply, have been sympathetic with Clara, but quite rightly they've said that nobody should intervene with the Scottish judiciary. It's the Scottish judges that will decide the fate of Clara, and the conclusions they come to may well be different to ones in other European such as Germany, for instance, in the case of Carles Puigdemont.
As you said, there was an independence referendum in Scotland, there is a desire for independence, what are the main differences that you see between Catalonia and Scotland, as well as the similarities? Also, taking into account the reaction of the United Kingdom and Spain.
I think that most people are horrified. The reason why Clara has received support from hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland, but also across the UK is quite simple: we had a referendum, the Scottish people expressed a desire that they wanted independence. The British government agreed for that vote to take place. A peaceful vote took place, and we lost the referendum, people voted against independence, and it was a peaceful process. Now, if tomorrow, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, called a referendum and the prime minister of the UK government was to send in the police and the state security forces to brutally attack with truncheons and batons, and violence - [with] the voters, there would be an absolute uproar. People would be demanding repercussions, they would seek justice, they would want the police officers to be put on trial, yet we've seen none of that in Spain. People were shocked to see the violence in a mainland European country, so that's the difference in the manner in which the Spanish authorities have reacted, and the manner in which the British authorities reacted? Of course there are lots of arguments that go on. But, in the rule of law, and in a civilized democracy, what happens is government leaders, whether they'll be from a devolved [regional] parliament, or from a national parliament, tend to argue. They will negotiate, but not to use violence, not to send the state security forces in against people. That seems almost as a deliberate attempt as I’ve seen to criminalize the people. And when they talked about decapitating the Catalan government, what they mean is denying the voice to the Catalan people.