Carles Puigdemont and four other members of the deposed Catalan regional government appeared on Monday in Brussels in front of a Dutch-speaking judge of the Chamber of Council, who must decide their fate. The Chamber of Council will announce its decision on 14 December, one week before the elections in Catalonia.
The lawyers of Puigdemont and the four former Catalan ministers argued that the facts are not punishable in Belgium and that in case of extradition to Spain there is a risk of infringement of their clients’ fundamental rights.
The five ex-leaders targeted by a European arrest warrant (EAW), who fled to Belgium on 30 October, denounced through their Belgian lawyers a “political trial”.
Spain wants to judge the five Catalan former leaders among others for “rebellion” (a crime punishable by 25 to 30 years in prison) and “sedition”, for having successfully started a secessionist process.
Lawyers have two levels of appeal if the Chamber of Council were to accept the Spanish application. This suggests a lengthy procedure, at least “until mid-January,” according to the Spanish lawyer of Puigdemont. This means that until December 21, the deposed president of Catalonia, a candidate in the election, will lead an atypical election campaign from Belgium.
The fact that the fate of the Catalan fugitives is now in the hands of a Flemish judge is not innocent. Justice is totally independent, but a Flemish judge might think twice before refusing the extradition, given the possible political interpretation, on the background of the drive towards secession and independence in Flanders proper, moves refused by a majority of the population. Puigdemont is backed by politicians from the nationalist and separatist party Nieuw- Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA, New Flemish Alliance), the main party in Flanders and part of the ruling federal government.
Barely a quarter of Catalans want to continue with a plan to claim independence from Spain in the wake of the 21 december regional elections, according to a poll published in El Pais newspaper.