Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont left a German prison on bail Friday, after a court ruled he could not be extradited to Spain on charges of rebellion.
The 55-year-old activist for Catalan independence was released on €75,000 bail ($92,000), after judges in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein ruled Thursday that the rebellion charge he faced in Spain was not an offence under German law.
Puigdemont could still be extradited on the lesser charge of misuse of funds, which Spanish authorities levied against him for using public monies to hold an illegal referendum last year.
The former journalist fled Spain after the regional government he led in Catalonia was dismissed by Madrid for having unilaterally declared independence from Spain. Puigdemont had been living in exile in Belgium, but was arrested in northern Germany on March 25 when Spain unexpectedly reactivated a European arrest warrant against him while he was traveling on a speaking tour.
Speaking outside the prison in Neumuenster Friday, Puigdemont thanked his supporters, and said the time had arrived to “find a political solution” to the simmering Catalan crisis.
He said Catalan leaders had demanded dialogue for six years only to be met with “a violent and repressive response.” He added: “Now, seeing the fall of that response, it’s time to do politics.”
Roger Torrent, president of the Catalan regional parliament, hailed Puigdemont’s release as “very good news,” and said the charge of rebellion was “totally invalid.”
“This political persecution has to end, as it is driven by a completely false narrative,” he said.
Puigdemont’s Spanish lawyer, Jaume Alonso Cuevillas, said the German court’s decision had left the Spanish justice system “discredited.”
The Spanish government respected the German court’s decision, spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said during a news conference Friday. He denied the government was hounding Puigdemont, saying the former leader was “not a victim of political persecution, he’s a fugitive from justice.”
Spain has faced allegations of political persecution in its response to the Catalan independence drive, which has seen 14 separatist leaders charged with rebellion, an offence that carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
The German government said it wouldn’t comment on the case, as it was a matter for the judiciary.
Cover image: Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont smiles when giving a press statement after he was released on bail from the prison in Neumuenster, northern Germany, Friday, April 6, 2018. (Carsten Rehder /dpa via AP)