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Former Catalan minister to oppose extradition from Scotland

A Catalan and a Spanish flag flutter on top of the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, early Monday Oct. 30, 2017. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona Sunday to call for their region to remain part of Spain, two days after regional lawmakers exacerbated a political crisis by voting for the wealthy region to secede. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

A former member of Catalonia's regional government facing extradition to Spain will hand herself into police later this week but will oppose the "political prosecution", her lawyer has confirmed.

Clara Ponsati, the ex-Catalan education minister, is expected to attend a police station in Edinburgh following a European arrest warrant being issued.

Her lawyer Aamer Anwar said he will oppose her extradition to Spain under the arrest warrant as it represents "a systematic attempt to criminalise the desire for independence".

A Spanish judge issued arrest warrants on Friday for Ms Ponsati and other fugitive politicians including Catalonia's ex-leader Carles Puigdemont, now detained by German police.

Ms Ponsati returned to Scotland earlier this month, having been in Belgium since fleeing Spain with Mr Puigdemont and three other former cabinet members following an unsuccessful bid to declare independence from Spain in October.

She posted on social media she had resumed working at the University of St Andrews in Fife.

Mr Anwar said following discussions with Police Scotland and the Crown Office, arrangements would be made for Ms Ponsati to voluntarily attend a police station this week then appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

He said bail would be applied for and a full hearing on the extradition request is expected to follow several weeks later.

"I can confirm that I have been instructed to defend Professor Clara Ponsati from Spain's request to extradite her using the European Arrest Warrant," Mr Anwar said in a statement.

"I am instructed to oppose the extradition on the basis that this is a political prosecution of Clara and a systematic attempt to criminalise the desire for independence by more than two million voters in Catalonia.

"She faces charges of rebellion with violence against the unity of the Spanish nation, but along with other politicians she promoted a peaceful referendum to express a democratic desire for independence from Spain. This offence is punishable by up to 30 years imprisonment.

"We will submit there are there are no guarantees of due process in Spain, of a right to a fair trial in a country where most members of the Catalan Government are already in prison or in exile."

He said Ms Ponsati has never committed a criminal offence and welcomes the support from the Scottish Government and people of Scotland.

Earlier, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government "supports the right of the people of Catalonia to determine their own future and that we strongly oppose the Spanish Government's decision to seek the arrest and imprisonment of independence supporting politicians".

She said Scottish ministers have no role in determining European arrest warrants and no power to intervene in the independent judicial process.

Former presiding officer at the Scottish Parliament, Tricia Marwick, told the BBC: "The Spanish prime minister is quite clearly using the judiciary to solve what should be a political problem, not a legal problem.

"It seems difficult to escape the conclusion that people are being persecuted for winning a vote."

Professor Sally Mapstone, the Principal and Vice Chancellor of St Andrews University, said staff there were "deeply concerned" by what was happening.

She said: "Clara is a valued colleague and we are committed to protect and support her.”

"As her employer and an institution committed to the defence of free speech, we are deeply concerned by recent developments, their motives and potential consequences.”

"In the current circumstances, we believe there are legitimate arguments that Clara is being targeted for standing up for her political beliefs.”

"That is anathema to us, and we will continue to offer her every appropriate support, while respecting due legal process."

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