Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont's lawyer said he was arrested "on his arrival in Sardinia." Incumbent president of Catalonia opposes the arrest strongly.
European MEP and former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont – in exile in Belgium since 2017 after an attempt by the region to gain independence through a referendum that Spain ruled was unconstitutional – was arrested in Italy, his lawyer said.
"President Puigdemont was arrested on his arrival in Sardinia, where he was travelling in his capacity as MEP," his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, wrote on Twitter, on Thursday adding that the arrest was made on the basis of a warrant issued in October 2019.
El President Puigdemont ha sido detenido a su llegada a Cerdeña donde acudía como eurodiputado; esta detención es en función de la euroorden de 14 de octubre de 2019 que, por imperativo legal -según establece el Estatuto del TJUE, se encuentra suspendida.— Gonzalo Boye (@boye_g) September 23, 2021
Spain has accused the Catalan separatist leader with sedition, claiming he helped organise a 2017 independence referendum deemed illegal by Spanish courts.
In March, the European Parliament stripped Puidgemont of the immunity he enjoyed as a member since 2019.
The European Parliament's decision is under appeal and a final ruling by the EU court has yet to be made.
His office said Puigdemont had travelled to Alghero this afternoon from Brussels to attend the Adifolk International Exhibition and to meet with the regional head of Sardinia and its ombudsman.
"When he arrived at the Alghero airport, he was stopped by the Italian border police. Tomorrow he will be placed at the disposal of the judges of the court of appeal of Sasser, which is competent to decide whether to release him or extradite him," its office said in the statement.
Spanish radio station Cadena Ser first reported the news, citing his lawyer.
Judicial procedure that applies to "any EU citizen"
Following Thursday's arrest, Madrid expressed "its respect for the decisions of the Italian authorities and courts".
"The arrest of Mr Puigdemont corresponds to an ongoing judicial procedure that applies to any EU citizen who has to answer to the courts," the Spanish government said in a statement.
The statement added Puigdemont should "submit to the action of justice like any other citizen".
READ MORE: Catalan leader to demand independence vote in first meeting with Spain PM
New Catalan president Pere Aragones — a separatist but more moderate than his predecessor — condemned what he called the "persecution" of Puigdemont.
In the face of persecution and judicial repression, the strongest condemnation. It has to stop.
He added that "self-determination" was the "only solution".
Quim Torra, who took over the presidency in 2018 following the referendum, described Puigdemont's possible extradition to Spain as "catastrophic" and called on pro-independence activists to be "on high alert".
Meanwhile, supporters starting sharing hashtags such as #FreePuigdemont, as the Catalan National Assembly urged people to protest Friday against his "illegal detention" outside Barcelona's Italian consulate.
Prou. #FreePuigdemont pic.twitter.com/7CiLXlRvI1— Josep Lluís Alay (@josepalay) September 24, 2021
Besides Puigdemont, former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati are also wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition.
The October 2017 referendum was held by Catalonia's separatist regional leadership despite a ban by Madrid and the process was marred by police violence.
READ MORE: Catalonia's former leader will 'fight until the end' if extradited to Spain
A few weeks later, the leadership made a short-lived declaration of independence, prompting Puigdemont to flee abroad.
Others who stayed in Spain were arrested and tried.
However, Puigdemont did not benefit from the pardon granted in June to nine pro-independence activists who had been impris oned in Spain.
READ MORE: Unease lingers in Spain’s Catalonia one year after independence referendum