Case 15

Carles Puigdemont, President of Catalonia in exile

The 130th President of Catalonia is currently in a self-imposed exile in Belgium after the German justice refused to extradite him to Spain.

The 130th President of the “Generalitat de Catalunya”, is currently in exile in Belgium after the German justice refused to extradite him to Spain.

On his complaint before UN’s Human Rights Committee, Carles Puigdemont reports that Spain has infringed his right to stand for election, his right to go into partnership with other politicians and parties with a shared goal (Catalonia becoming independent from Spain), and his right to freedom of peaceful political expression in support of the independence of Catalonia. The president, who has been dismissed by the Spanish government after a symbolic declaration of independence, was elected again on 21st December 2017 for a new term. Spanish authorities impeded his re-election even though he has never been convicted for any crime or deprived of his political rights by a court of law.


The Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, urged the European Union to “be part of the solution” to the Catalan situation and engage in a conflict that has now become “a European problem”. In a packed room in the European Parliament on Tuesday evening, Puigdemont said that Catalonia will celebrate a referendum on independence on October 2017.


On 30th October 2017, three days after the unofficial declaration of independence in the Catalan Parliament, the Spanish chief state prosecutor lodged a complaint against Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, and his government for alleged charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement of public funds

Puigdemont received news of this accusation in Brussels, where he had been staying with a number of his ministers since the previous day and, thus, failed to appear before the court in Madrid to testify on 2nd and 3rd November 2017. From Belgium, he asked the international community to get involved in the Catalan conflict, accusing the Spanish government of conducting an offensive against Catalonia’s institutions and their officials; at the same time, he justified their failure to heed Spanish court summons by claiming that they would not have faced a fair trial.

Judge Carmen Lamela issued a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) against Carles Puigdemont and the four ministers, who went to a Belgian court, “so as not to evade the action of justice but only to defend themselves in a fair and impartial trial”, in their words. The Brussels court of first instance released them provisionally, pending its final decision on the extradition request. Just before its judgment (which Spain feared would be negative), Spanish judge Pablo Llarena revoked the EAW (but not the Spanish one), which meant that if the defendants stepped foot on Spanish soil they would be arrested.

From Brussels, President Puigdemont stood as the leading candidate of Junts per Catalunya, a new political coalition formulated for the election called by the Spanish government on 21st December, 2017. Though his group finished as the second largest party in the elections, it did so just behind the Unionist party Ciudadanos. Nevertheless, pro-independence representatives managed to retain a majority in the Parliament and therefore Puigdemont became the candidate for President. However, he could for obvious reasons not be physically present in the chamber for the investiture debate, and was prevented from taking office by the Constitutional Court in response to a Spanish government appeal – made in spite of the better judgment of the Council of State and court lawyers – in an unprecedented cautionary decision, only explained as a result of direct pressure from members of the government. Some days later, Jordi Sànchez MP who was number 2 on the party list and yet found himself in pre-trial detention, was not given leave to attend the investiture debate. Meanwhile, a third candidate, Jordi Turull MS, was arrested before the final vote, and has also been in pre-trial detention since then

On 23 March 2018, taking advantage of the fact that Carles Puigdemont was in Finland, the examining judge Pablo Llarena issued a new EAW on grounds of rebellion and misuse of public funds. Two days later, as President Puigdemont was returning to Brussels by car, and after having crossed Sweden and Denmark, he was arrested just inside Germany. On 5th April, the Schleswig-Holstein high court set him free with precautionary measures – but no bail – in a preliminary hearing, before having to rule on the extradition request on charges of rebellion. Judge Llarena decided to reduce President Puigdemont’s alleged offence (from rebellion to sedition) but the court also turned down this offence and only retained the option of extraditing him on grounds of misuse of public funds. Judge Llarena decided not to appeal to a higher court, and again withdrew the EAW, as he did not want to judge Mr. Puigdemont merely for misuse of public funds. 

President Puigdemont returned to Brussels as a free man. Later, judge Llarena applied legislation – previously applied only to detainees charged with terrorism – to suspend President Puigdemont and the other defendants (who were MPs) from their posts, regardless of whether or not they had been found guilty.

On October 14, 2019 — the same day in which the 9 Catalan leaders that did not went into exile were convicted to 99 years in prison— judge Pablo Llarena issued a third EAW for sedition and misuse of public funds. The outcome is still unknown, but it could be revoked due to MEP immunity.

Carles Puigdemont / Chatham House

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín debuted as MEPs denouncing the imprisonment of Oriol Junqueras


As Catalonia’s President, Carles Puigdemont was seen as the foremost figure in promoting Catalonia’s independence referendum on 1st October 2017, which was announced following a parliamentary resolution adopted by both pro-independence groups, who held an outright majority in Parliament. The referendum was called under the terms of a Bill enacted in September 2017, and despite efforts by the Spanish police to first prevent it from taking place (with searches for ballot boxes and papers, correspondence, arrests of high-ranking officials…) and then to impede its progress when it did (with considerable police violence, cyberattacks…). Turnout was 43%, with 90% voting “Yes”. That same day, Puigdemont said he would take the results to Parliament. Ten days later, Puigdemont suspended the declaration of independence laid down in law, after top-level assurances of an international mediation and dialogue proposals, which would never come about.

On 21st October, the Spanish government announced the implementation of section 155 of the Spanish Constitution, in the form of granting Madrid with direct control over Catalonia; this was passed on 27th October by the Spanish Senate and the result was the de facto sacking of Puigdemont and his ministers (even though they never acknowledged such a decision). Earlier, on the same day, the Catalan Parliament had adopted an unofficial resolution declaring the independence of Catalonia.

A good chronology of the road to Catalan independence can be found here.

Puigdemont denounces Spanish police raids in Government offices (9-20-2017)

President Carles Puigdemont on Spain invoking Article 155, 21 October 2017

The outcome

Knowing for a fact that were he to return Spain he would surely be arrested and that he would be forced to face what he deemed to be an unfair trial, President Puigdemont decided to stay in Brussels. From there, he has been leading an international campaign to denounce Spain’s lack of democracy and to reclaim Catalan governmental institutions. He is also pushing policies aimed at the materialization of the Catalan Republic and has sought to defend civil and political rights through a Catalan Council for the Republic, based in Waterloo.

In the meantime, on March 27 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Committee admitted a complaint from Puigdemont regarding a violation of his political rights after – among various other infringements of his rights – the Spanish government decided to block his investiture. It had been presented earlier in the month by one of Puigdemont’s international lawyers, Rachel Lindon. The final verredict on this issue is still unknown.

After being banned from re-election as Catalan President, Mr. Puigdemont, along with some of the exiled Catalan Ministers (Mr. Toni Comín and Mr. Clara Ponsatí), decided to run for the 2019 European Parliament Election.

Since he took his decision to run for the 2019 European Parliament Election – where he was elected MEP and won the elections in Catalonia with more than 1.000.000 votes – Mr. Puigdemont has faced yet more vulnerations of his political rights that have prevented him to become a MEP for the moment. His vulneration of rights as an MEP can be found here.

Carles Puigdemont is currently facing his third European Arrest Warrant, issued by Spanish Judge Pablo Llarena on the same date in which
in which the 9 Catalan leaders that did not went into exile were convicted to 99 years in prison. Session at Brussels court has been postponed unitl February 3 in order to wait for a decision from the Court of Justice of the European Union that could grant him with MEP immunity.

Session at Brussels court postponed until February 3 with Luxembourg judges’ decision on jailed Junqueras’ immunity expected on Thursday

Catalan ex-leader Carles Puigdemont vows to resist takeover (10-28-2018)

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaks in Brussels at his arrival (10-31-2017)

Disputed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont: Spain has “damaged democracy” (11-11-2017)

Spain withdraws Puigdemont European Arrest Warrant (12-5-2017)

Carles Puigdemont demands to return home after winning the elections of Catalonia. (12-23-2017)

Violated rights

President Carles Puigdemont and members of his government and of the Parliament of Catalonia, claim several of their fundamental rights have been violated. Firstly, they suggest that their right to political participation been violated: the government he presided over was dismissed, Parliament was dissolved and direct rule was imposed on the basis of the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution – authorised by the Spanish Senate on October 27, 2017. In actual fact, the article does not provide for any of the above-mentioned measures.

At the end of January 2018, his political rights were again violated. Having been encouraged by Spanish government ministers to stand for the Spanish-imposed Catalan elections in December 2017 and being chosen as the candidate to (recover) the Presidency by the Spanish government, they then called on the Constitutional Court (against the better judgement of the Council of State) to block his candidacy. After a reported Government phone call, the Constitutional Court subsequently issued an unprecedented, temporary injunction in order to achieve this aim.

 In June 2018 his political rights were yet again violated, this time by the Supreme Court, that applied a legal provision hitherto applied only to detain terrorists awaiting trial: the suspension of his rights as a Member of Parliament. This decision affected the votes of the Catalan electorate and thus also violated their political rights as voters.

These events violate article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which deals with the rights to political participation, notably guaranteeing “the free expression of the will of the electors” and that everyone should “have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country”

Moreover, the violations of his political rights related with his elections as an MEP can be found here.

Secondly, the right to presumption of innocence has also been violated, as although President Puigdemont made himself available to the courts of Belgium as soon as he reached that country, Spanish courts still regard him as a “fugitive from justice”. They are also working under the assumption that he is guilty of the accusations they have issued against him, despite President Puigdemont not yet being tried. It is striking that on two occasions EAWs issued against him by Spanish courts have later been withdrawn, given there was clearly no evidence to justify the charges of rebellion or sedition that had been made against him.

Even Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez, in an unprecedented violation of State’s separation of powers, claimed he would commit to “return [Puigdemont] to Spain so that he can be held accountable before Spanish justice.” insinuating that Spanish Public prosecutor was following his orders. Spain’s vice president, Carmen Calvo, even warned Belgium that Spain will ‘take decisions’ if it fails to hand over Puigdemont.

Furthermore, Spain also violates the right to the personal freedom and integrity of the President, since in spite of having appeared before the courts of the countries he has travelled to since his departure fom Catalonia, and in spite of the withdrawal of EAWs issued by the Supreme Court, the Spanish authorities have persisted in using technological tracking devices to have him geolocated, and judicial investigations are underway in various countries on this issueA prosecutor in Spain’s National Court may have also been linked to an espionage plot

There have been several violations with regard to the judicial procedure – against members of his government and MPs of the Parliament of Catalonia, as well as leaders of civil society, pro-independence associations – on charges of rebellion, sedition, embezzlement of public funds and contempt of court. In the first place, President Puigdemont’s right to effective legal protection has not been respected: he has not been allowed to defend himself from these serious charges before the Supreme Court unless he hands himself over to the Spanish judicial authorities, in contravention of current legislation. The principle of criminal legality (that is, criminal liability and punishment should be based only upon a prior enactment of a prohibition that is expressed with adequate precision and clarity) has also been violated in his case.

It is worth recalling that in the case of President Puigdemont’s detention in Germany, the High Court of Schleswig-Holstein ruled on July 12, 2018 that the alleged crime of rebellion did not exist in his case and that he could be only be extradited to Spain to stand trial on charges of misuse of public funds. The ruling prompted the immediate withdrawal of the EAW by the Spanish Supreme Court, issued for the German, Belgian and Scottish governments to grant the extradition of Mr. Puigdemont and other exiled members of the Catalan government. Nevertheless, the rest of the Catalan Government that remained in Spain has been condemned to 99 yeras in prison for sedition an misuse of public funds, a sentence that has been criticized by Amnesty International and International Trial Watch, amongst others.

Puigdemont provisionally renounces the presidency of Catalonia (3-1-2018)

Lawyer Ben Emmerson says Puigdemont has appealed to UN over treatment by Spain (3-7-2018)

Germany: Police detain ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont on European arrest warrant (3-26-2018)

Germany: Court refuses to extradite Catalan ex-regional president Puigdemont on rebellion charges (4-6-2018)

Puigdemont rebellion charge was ‘extremely risky’ – German legal expert (4-6-2018)

Political References

Carles Puigdemont, the mayor who became Catalan President number 130. Catalan News (in English)

New Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, takes office. Catalan News (in English)

Catalan Parliament decides to call a referendum with or without Spain’s consent. Catalan News (in English)

Catalan chief pledges binding independence referendum in 2017. DW (in English)

Catalonia to hold independence vote on October 1. POLITICO (in English)

The Puigdemont factor. POLITICO (in English)

Puigdemont meets Spanish General Prosecutor amid independence court cases. Catalan News (in English)

Catalonia referendum: Violence as police block voting. BBC (in English)

Puigdemont postpones declaration of independence to make a final offer of dialogue to Spain (in English), Ara: 

Puigdemont first press conference in Brussels 31-10-2017. Catalan News (in English)

Puigdemont: ‘Solution other than independence is possible’. POLITICO (in English)

Puigdemont: I’m still Catalan president. POLITICO (in English)

Sacked Catalan leader challenges EU to respect election outcome. Catalan News (in English)

Puigdemont launches Catalan election campaign from Belgium. POLITICO (in English)

Catalan separatists win election in rebuke to Spain and EU. Reuters (in English)

Carles Puigdemont: Catalonia has taken a ‘new political step’. POLITICO (in English)

Puigdemont wants Catalan homecoming. POLITICO (in English)

Catalonia won’t be silenced. POLTICO (in English)

Puigdemont travels to Denmark, despite risk of arrest. POLITICO (in English)

Spain to Puigdemont: Don’t try anything sneaky. POLITICO (in English)

Puigdemont calls for ‘dialogue’ with Madrid after German court decision. POLITICO (in English)

Puigdemont to return to Belgium and ‘political activities’. POLITICO (in English)

Catalan president: We want actions, not words from Madrid. POLITICO (in English)

Puigdemont reclaims Catalonia’s leadership. EUobserver (in English)

Puigdemont says Donald Tusk should be ‘mediator’ in Catalan conflict. POLITICO (in English)

Puigdemont: EU more concerned about Venezuela than Catalan trial. POLITICO (in English)

Former Catalan leader Puigdemont to run in European election. POLITICO (in English)

Catalan independence leader Carles Puigdemont on reinventing nationalism in a new century. Salon (in English) 


Puigdemont released on bail from German prison (4-11-2018)

Puigdemont lawyer: Spain should stop using European warrants for political agenda. (4-11-2018)

Carles Puigdemont denounces the violation of his political rights, as he was vetoed from being reelected as Catalan President (4-12-2018)

Catalan independence & European values: Uncut with Carles Puigdemont. Daniel Cohn-Bendit. (10-19-2018)

Puigdemont denounces the vulneration of rights during the Catalan Trial (11-2-2018)

President Puigdemont: “My return will mean that Catalonia is a free nation and we are free citizens”. 12-14-2018

Third European arrest warrant issued for Puigdemont, after colleagues sentenced. (14-10-2019)

EU parliament accredits Catalan separatists. Euronews 7-1-2020

Carles Puigdemont’s debut speech in the European Parliament. 14-01-2020

Now fully accredited MEPS, they are here to attend the first plenary of the year. After expressing his joy, Carles Puigdemont told the press the Catalan independence question was a European issue. EuroNews 14-01-2020

Legal References

Spanish prosecutor weighing charges against Catalan Government for buying ballot boxes. Catalan News (in English)

Spain’s attorney general will act without “hesitation” against Oct 1 referendum. Catalan News (in English)

Spain’s Attorney General says he would consider arresting Catalan president. Catalan News (in English)

Attorney General says asking prison for Puigdemont is on the table. Catalan News (in English)

Rajoy anounces sweeping plan to take control of Catalonia. POLITICO (in English)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has fled the country amid rebellion charges. Independent (in English) 

Puigdemont and dismissed cabinet members summoned to court for November 2, Catalan News

Spain issues arrest warrant for ousted Catalan leader. Reuters (in English)

Carles Puigdemont says he’ll cooperate with Belgian courts. POLITICO (in English)

Puigdemont turns himself in to Belgian police. POLITICO (in English)

Belgian court frees Puigdemont. POLITICO (in English)

Catalonia’s ex-leader granted freedom to campaign for independence. Reuters (in English)

Belgian judge defers ruling on warrant for ex-Catalan leader: lawyer. Reuters (in English)

Spain withdraws international arrest warrant for former Catalan leader. Reuters (in English)

Fugitive former leader cannot rule Catalonia from abroad says Madrid. Reuters (in English)

Spanish government asks court to block Puigdemont’s bid to lead Catalonia. Reuters (in English)

Catalonia in deadlock as Puigdemont’s election postponed. POLITICO (in English)

Spanish PM calls on Catalan separatists to nominate new leadership candidate. POLITICO (in English)

Carles Puigdemont says Spain has violated his rights. POLITICO (in English)

Spanish prosecutor seeks to void Puigdemont’s passport. POLITICO (In English)

Former Catalan leader faces arrest in Finland. Reuters (in English)

Carles Puigdemont Is Arrested in Germany, Drawing E.U. Giant Into Catalan Fight. The NY Times (in English)

Arrest of Catalan Leader Tests Spain, Separatists and E.U.. NY Times (in English)

The UN accepts Carles Puigdemont’s human rights complaint against Spain (in English), El Nacional

Catalan parliament backs Puigdemont’s right to again be president. Reuters (in English)

German prosecutors file for extradition of ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont. Reuters (in English)

Spanish spies tracked Carles Puigdemont via friend’s phone (in English), The Guardian

Puigdemont Cannot Be Extradited on Rebellion Charge, German Court Rules. NY Times (in English)

Spain moves to block Catalan ex-leader forming government. Reuters (in English)

German prosecutors want to extradite former Catalan leader. Reuters (in English)

Ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont can be extradited to Spain- German court says. Reuters (in English)

Belgium to investigate Spain’s alleged spying on Puigdemont. POLITICO (in English)

Spain drops arrest warrant for former Catalan leader. Reuters (in English)

Jailed ministers and President Puigdemont to lodge a complaint before the United Nations for violation of their political rights (in English), Ara

EU shuts down Puigdemont event over ‘security threats’. POLITICO (in English)

Cancellation of parliament conference ‘damages the democratic credibility of the EU’ – Catalan leaders. Catalan News (in English)

Puigdemont includes Spain in lawsuit against Spanish judge Llarena. Catalan News (in English)

Puigdemont orders report to compare German and Spanish legal rulings on referendum case. Catalan News (in English)

Constitutional Court deems swearing Catalan president in at a distance illegal. Catalan News (in English)

Puigdemont presents European Citizens’ Initiative to sanction Spain. Catalan News (in English)

Spain’s prosecutor considering new extradition request against Puigdemont. Catalan News (in English)

Prosecutor closes file on Puigdemont shooting mockery. Catalan News (in English)

Belgian court orders new investigations on Puidgemont tracking devices case. Catalan News (in English)

Spain’s Supreme Court issues new Carles Puigdemont arrest warrant. POLITICO

Puigdemont appears before Belgian authorities over arrest warrant. POLITICO

Blocked Catalans demand to take seats in EU Parliament. POLITICO

Spain issues European arrest warrant for former Catalan head Puigdemont. Reuters.

Puigdemont extradition hearing delayed due to upcoming EU court ruling. Catalan News

Puigdemont considers suing Borrell for ‘doubting’ Belgian judiciary’s independence. Catalan News

Carles Puigdemont allowed to enter EU Parliament after court ruling. POLITICO

EU court annuls decision preventing Puigdemont from becoming MEP. Catalan News

Puigdemont obtains temporary MEP accreditation. Catalan News

Puigdemont picks up MEP badge after court boost. POLITICO

Trio of Catalan Leaders to Be Recognized as EU Lawmakers. The New York Times

Brussels court suspends extradition of ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont. Reuters

Catalan separatist MEPs to receive €80,000 back pay. POLITICO

Puigdemont and Comín in EU parliament for MEP debut. Catalan News

Puigdemont’s immunity under threat as he takes up seat as MEP. POLITICO

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