'Illegal arrest'; 'spectacle'; 'legal duty' - political world reacts to Ponsatí's detention

Pro-independence Junts and CUP demand MEP's release, interior minister defends police decision to arrest former exile

Lawyer Gonzalo Boye and MEP Clara Ponsatí in the moment of the politician's arrest upon returning to Barcelona on March 28, 2023
Lawyer Gonzalo Boye and MEP Clara Ponsatí in the moment of the politician's arrest upon returning to Barcelona on March 28, 2023 / Gerard Escaich
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

March 28, 2023 09:28 PM

The world of Catalan politics has been reacting to the news of the return and subsequent arrest of Clara Ponsatí

The Junts MEP held the role of Catalonia's education minister during the time of the 2017 independence referendum and spent over five years in exile since the peak of the political crisis. Since then, she has been wanted by Spanish authorities for her role in the independence push. 

On Tuesday, Ponsatí made a surprise return to Catalonia and was arrested soon afterward. She is expected to be released once she appears before a judge so that her case of disobedience can continue. 

Ponsatí was previously charged with sedition as this is what the independence leaders who remained in Catalonia had been convicted of, but the charges were recently changed to only include disobedience following the reform of the Spanish penal code, eliminating sedition and replacing it with aggravated public disorder. Yet, her charges have since changed, and now she is only wanted for disobedience, an offense for which she cannot be jailed. 

On Tuesday evening, Ponsatí is being held in the Ciutat de la Justicia complex of legal departments and courts. Some 200 people gathered in the area to protest for her release, while high-ranking members of pro-independence parties Junts and CUP also turned up to show their support for Ponsatí. 

Jordi Turull, general secretary of Junts per Catalunya, Ponsatí's party, spoke with media gathered outside the courts and legal department buildings, and demanded the immediate release of his party companion, and denounced her "illegal" arrest

Carles Puigdemont, the president of Catalonia at the time of the referendum vote and also living in exile, also condemned the "illegal" arrest of his party colleague. They, along with Ponsatí, affirm that the arrest was illegal because Ponsatí is a Member of the European Parliament, giving her parliamentary immunity

Carles Riera of the far-left pro-independence CUP party also spoke to gathered media outside the Ciutat de la Justicia. There, he lamented the fact that the Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra police force "chose to obey the orders of [Supreme Court] judge Pablo Llarena and have violated the democratic rights of Ponsatí as a member of the European Parliament." The CUP figurehead called on the interior minister, Joan Ignasi Elena, to "reverse" the situation. 

Elena meanwhile, of the pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana who are now governing Catalonia solo, pointed out that the Catalan police who carried out the arrest did so under orders "as is their legal duty." "Everyone knows this", he added. 

Elena, like his party president Oriol Junqueras, celebrated the fact that the reform of the penal code, eliminating sedition, which his Esquerra party helped broker, will mean that the Spanish justice system will have to release Ponsatí once she gives her statement. 

Current Catalan president Pere Aragonès also condemned the arrest, denouncing that Llarena's arrest warrant violated Ponsatí's rights as an MEP. He also added his voice to the calls for her immediate release. 

"Nobody above the law" 

Meanwhile, a member of the Catalan Socialists outlined that "nobody is above the law" in relation to Ponsatí's arrest.  

"Justice is the same for everyone and it has been carried out in the same way as it would be for any citizen who does not appear before a judge," a spokesperson added. 

Meanwhile, sources from the Spanish government, led by the Socialist Party, consider the return and arrest of Ponsatí a "spectacle." Sources from the executive point out that the charges against Ponsatí are the same as those against Meritxell Serret and Anna Gabriel, who also made surprise returns from exile while charged with the same disobedience offenses, but chose to voluntarily testify before judge Llarena, and who are now "quietly on the street."

Leader of the conservative unionist People's Party in Catalonia, Alejandro Fernández, said that "now is the time for the rule of law and for justice to do its job." 

Ignacio Garriga of the far-right Vox party called Ponsatí a "coward" for having returned to Catalonia after five years "with a tailor-made penal code." He added that "not with all the separatist victimhood will they be able to hide the serious crimes they committed against their people," in relation to pro-independence leaders.