Belgian court refuses to extradite three Catalan politicians

A Spanish extradition request for three Catalan politicians, who fled to Brussels after a disputed independence referendum, has been rejected. The Belgian court found the request was vague and contained irregularities.

A Belgian judge on Wednesday rejected an extradition request by Spain for three former Catalan ministers over their region's controversial independence bid, the court said.

The ruling scuppers the Spanish government's attempt to put the MPs, who fled to Belgium with ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, on trial for rebellion and misuse of public funds. Puigdemont has since been arrested in Germany.

Read more: German court grants Carles Puigdemont bail as extradition for corruption considered

What the court decided

  • The Brussels Court of First Instance said the extradition request against Meritxell Serret, Antoni Comin, and Lluis Puig was thrown out because there were no corresponding Spanish arrest orders.
  • The lack of corresponding Spanish legislation means that the European arrest warrants are unenforceable.
  • The court also found irregularities and imprecisions in relation to the extradition request, despite requesting further information from Spanish authorities, the Belga news agency reported.
  • Prosecutors say that Spain can't appeal the decision.

Read more: Catalan secessionists back absent ex-leader Carles Puigdemont for regional president

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Political resolution

Following Wednesday's verdict, Comin expressed hope that the dispute could now be resolved politically and not through the courts.

"We also hope that the Spanish judiciary realizes that it cannot abuse the penal code to pursue political opponents," Belga news agency quoted him as saying.

Blow to Spain: The verdict came as another blow to Spain's attempts to have Catalan politicians extradited from European countries for their role in organizing the referendum in 2017. Last month, a Berlin court refused to extradite Puigdemont on the main charge of rebellion that Madrid levels against him.

Catalan referendum: Last October, Catalan government led by Puigdemont held an independence referendum and consequently declared Catalonia's secession from Spain. The move fueled a political crisis with Madrid that termed the referendum illegal, citing Spain's constitution which says Spain is indivisible. Madrid dismissed the regional government following the declaration and jailed some Catalan politicians, who stayed in the country.

Read moreCatalan independence - What you need to know

ap, mm/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)


A Roman province

The Romans had several provinces with Hispania in their names on the Iberian Peninsula. Modern Spain also encompasses such wide cultural diversity that the Spanish themselves speak of Las Espanas (The Spains). The country in its present form was never united under a single ruler until after the 1702-14 War of the Spanish Succession.


A nation of regions

Spanish nationalism is strong in many regions, with former kingdoms such as Aragon largely content to be recognized as part of the Spanish nation-state. Asturias has its own language, but takes pride in its role as the birthplace of the Reconquista, or the taking back of Iberia from the Moors. Spanish nationalism was evident in recent protests in Madrid in response to Catalonia's referendum.


Bloodied fingers

Catalonia has long battled for independence. Its flag, the Senyera, is very similar to that of Aragon, to which it once belonged. The design is fabled to represent four bloodied fingers of Count Wilfred the Hairy being passed over a gold shield. Catalans were fairly happy with their situation until a court struck down the region's statute of autonomy in 2006 and support for independence grew.


No great appetite

Valencianismo, or Valencian nationalism, sprang out of the Renaixenca, an early-19th-century rebirth of the Catalan language, of which Valencian is just one variant. However, nationalist sentiment is not widespread in the region, which is home to Spain's Tomatina tomato-throwing festival. The Valencian Nationalist Bloc usually gets about 4 percent of the vote for the autonomous parliament.


Other Catalan territories

The Balearic Islands — Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca, Formentera — all speak variants of Catalan. Though there is a greater nationalist feeling on the islands than in Valencia, it is still more subdued than in Catalonia. Meanwhile, La Franja, a strip of Catalan-speaking land in Aragon, was split by the independence referendum, though most residents do not advocate self-determination for themselves.


The Basque Country

Because of terror attacks by the ETA militant group, Basque separatists used to make the headlines far more often than Catalonia's independence movement. Separatists consider the Basque Country in France and Spain and the region of Navarre to be one nation. About a third of people want full independence, but most want more autonomy. A referendum proposed in 2008 was ruled illegal.


The Galician cause

Although it was the birthplace of the centralist dictator Francisco Franco, Galicia has the strongest tradition of separatism after Catalonia and the Basque Country. Even Spain's mainstream national parties display a streak of Galicianism in the region. Perhaps as a result, starkly nationalist parties receive a lower share of the regional vote.


From caliphate to community

The Arabic name al-Andalus originally refers to the areas of the Iberian Peninsula that were under Moorish rule for 760 years. As Christians reconquered territories, the area known as Andalusia shrank southwards. Most Andalusians voted for autonomy after Franco died in 1975, but there is little appetite for full independence.

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