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Carles Puigdemont will stay in Berlin while a final decision on his extradition to Spain is made. The Catalan president confirmed in a press conference on Saturday that he has chosen the capital of Germany as his temporary place of residence, while a court decides on the European Arrest Warrant.
Puigdemont left the Neumünster prison in Germany on Friday afternoon, a day after the Schleswig-Holstein court decided to release the pro-independence leader on a €75,000 bail.
Catalonia’s most prominent independence leader spent 12 nights in jail. German authorities arrested him on March 25 after extradition orders were issued by the Spanish Supreme Court against Catalan officials seeking refuge abroad. According to Puigdemont, he was on his way back to Belgium, where he has resided since October, after a short visit to Finland.
Major blow to Spain
“I did not expect to be arrested in Germany, nor anywhere else” said Puigdemont. “I didn’t want to bring my case to other countries. We were already in Belgium. Our lawyers were there, all the expertise. Therefore, it’s stupid to start the case all over again in a different country. But I have no choice.”
Puigdemont’s detention came as a shock for pro-independence supporters. The deposed president had avoided prosecution since leaving the country in October, following a declaration of independence that prompted Spain to impose direct rule on Catalonia and dismiss all government members.
Yet, the German judiciary dealt a major blow to Spain on Thursday with the announcement of Puigdemont’s release. More importantly, the Schleswig-Holstein court rejected the charges of rebellion, translated to the German crime of high treason, due to the absence of any violence.
Sànchez for president
Puigdemont backed Jordi Sànchez, an activist jailed for almost six months, as presidential candidate. “Sànchez’s political rights as an MP remain intact. Therefore, he can be elected as president of the government,” he said.
Puigdemont’s arrest and subsequent release put him on the spot again, with far-left CUP even urging other pro-independence groups to appoint him as president, in defiance of the Spanish judiciary’s ban on a swearing-in ceremony at a distance.
Yet, Puigdemont stressed his support for Sànchez, whom he proposed as his successor in the first place, after his own appointement was blocked last January. Still, he makes a point of reminding that he is stepping aside only temporarily: “I have not given up on anything.”
Freedom for jailed leaders
Shortly after leaving prison himself, Puigdemont called for the release of all pro-independence leaders held behind bars in Spain. “In Europe, in the 21st century, there is people jailed for their ideas,” he said.
There are currently nine Catalan leaders preemptively imprisoned in Madrid. Just like Puigdemont, they all face criminal charges of rebellion, an offence carrying prison sentences of up to 30 years, as well as other alleged crimes.
In an unexpected move, the Schleswig-Holstein rejected to extradite Puigdemont for rebellion, alleging absence of violence, while still considering the European Arrest Warrant for misuse of public funds.
The deposed president also urged Spain to abandon the prosecution of Catalan leaders, and engage instead in political dialogue: “We need more parliaments and less prisons, more politicians and less judges and prosecutors.”