ALGHERO, Sardinia (AP) — Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont took a leisurely walk Saturday in Sardinia, waving to supporters on the Italian island a day after a judge freed him from jail pending a hearing on his extradition to Spain to face sedition charges.
Puigdemont, a member of the European Union’s parliament who previously served as president of Spain’s restive Catalonia region, attended a Catalan cultural festival and had a meeting scheduled later Saturday with the region’s current president and deputy.
Puigdemont was arrested Thursday by Italian police as he arrived in Sardinia, a Mediterranean island that has strong ties to to Catalan culture and its own separatist movement. But a Sardinian judge released him a day later and imposed no travel restrictions pending the Oct. 4 extradition hearing, leaving Puigdemont free to attend the festival Saturday in Alghero.
As he walked through the port and into City Hall, Catalan folk singers and dancers cheered him on.
“I’m used to (being) prosecuted by Spain, but the end is always the same. I’m free and I will continue fighting,” Puigdemont told The Associated Press during his stroll.
He said he came to Sardinia “because you know Alghero has a very, very deep root in the Catalan culture and Catalan language. So for me it’s a very, very important occasion to be here, free!”
Puigdemont and a number of his separatist colleagues fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing arrest after holding an independence referendum for Catalonia that the Spanish courts and government said was illegal.
His arrest came at a sensitive time for the Spanish government and the regional leadership of Catalonia, which earlier this month restarted talks aimed at resolving the political crisis that has persisted since Spain’s crackdown on the separatist movement.
Although Puigdemont holds a seat in the European Parliament, that legislature stripped him of parliamentary immunity.
At the heart of the immediate legal matter is whether the warrant issued by Spain seeking Puigdemont’s arrest is valid. Gonzalo Boye, his lawyer, has insisted the European warrant issued in 2019 that provided the basis for Italian authorities to detain him has been suspended.
The Spanish Supreme Court judge handling the case, Pablo Llarena, sent a letter to the European Union’s Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation stating that the arrest warrant was “in force and pending the capture of those accused of rebellion.”
It’s not the first time Spanish courts have tried to detain Puigdemont abroad. After a Belgian court declined to send him back in 2017, the following year he was arrested in Germany but a court there also refused to extradite him.
Nine Catalan separatists later received prison sentences for their role in the 2017 referendum ranging from nine to 13 years. They were pardoned in July, but Puigdemont, who fled, was not.
Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.