A former Catalan minister who is fighting extradition to Spain has told SNP members a referendum can never be illegal in a democracy.
Professor Clara Ponsati is being sought by the Spanish authorities on charges of violent rebellion and misappropriation of public funds over her role in Catalonia’s controversial independence ballot last year.
Appearing at a packed-out fringe event at the SNP’s conference in Aberdeen, she defended the decision of pro-independence leaders to pursue the unofficial referendum in October last year.
“A referendum is never illegal in a democracy and it’s not illegal in Spain,” she said.
“It was not an agreed referendum, that’s true. We could not manage an agreement with the Spanish authorities to organise an agreed referendum like the one you had about your own independence.”
Prof Ponsati, an academic at St Andrews University, said the Spanish authorities had ignored demands for a vote, despite the electorate giving the Catalan parliament a mandate.
“The voters have given us a mandate, we were obliged to do it,” she said.
She accused the Spanish authorities of “manipulating” the reading of the law in bringing charges against those involved in vote.
“What is illegal is what the judiciary are doing in Spain right now,” she said.
“At the end of the day, yes there is an article in the Spanish constitution that was approved many many years ago and has not been revisited that says that Spain is a united indivisible kingdom.
“But human rights and self-determination as a human right are founding elements of the Spanish democracy.
“Spanish nationalism in their desperate defence of this sacred unity are ready to sacrifice democracy.”
Prof Ponsati, who received a standing ovation from members, could face a total sentence of up to 33 years if she is sent to Spain and convicted of the charges, sparking fears the 61-year-old could spend the rest of her life in jail.
She was also cheered when she appeared on the main stage of the SNP conference later, telling delegates there she was “overwhelmed’ by the support she had received.
He lawyer Aamer Anwar echoed her message, saying: “No referendum can ever be illegal.”
The lawyer, who appeared beside her, stated: “The SNP is more than just a political party, it has built a movement for independence which at its heart has always had the principles of justice, freedom and equality.
“And that is why as internationalists, whenever injustice takes place, whether it be in the Palestine or the streets of Barcelona, we can never be silent.”
He added: “Clara, if extradited and convicted at the age of 61 could face a sentence of up to 33 years, effectively taking her last breath in a Madrid prison.
“So silence is not an option for those on the side of justice. The arrest warrant accuses Clara of orchestrating violence at over 2,000 polling station, yet not one single Spanish police officer has been prosecuted for their violent actions.
“The warrant as far as we are concerned, and as we have publicly stated, is a grotesque distortion of the truth by the Spanish state.”
A full hearing of her extradition case is due to begin on July 30 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.
Mr Anwar said the pressure was on to raise a further £230,000 for her defence, with crowd-funding already bringing in £270,000.
MAIN PHOTO: Jane Barlow/PA Wire