Education minister takes up exile foreseeing an unfair trial should she ever return to Spain
Clara ponsatí, Catalan education minister:
‘If Brussels does not take action, they will be accomplices of this violation of human rights.’
On 1st October 2017, a referendum on independence was held in Catalonia. The Spanish police broke in to the Catalan Department of Education in Barcelona, which was one of the polling stations during the referendum held that day. The education minister, Ms Clara Ponsatí, told the police officers that they were not allowed in. However, the police officers ignored the command of the education minister and confiscated a ballot box, computers and her personal Ipad. Moreover, Ms. Ponsatí was pushed and thrown to the ground by the police officers. Ms. Ponsatí states that the Spanish police officers showed a violent attitude throughout their performance. Two other people had to be assisted by doctors and they were taken to hospital by ambulance. After the police left, the Department of Education building was reopened and used as one of the polling stations throughout the day. Ms Ponsatí spent all day in the Catalan Department of Education and only left the building to cast her vote in Sant Cugat, her hometown.
Clara Ponsatí had been working as the director of the School of Economics and Finance at the University of Saint Andrews (Scotland), since January 2016. In July 2017, she was appointed as the Catalan government’s education minister.
She served the Catalan government briefly but she claimed to be the person – together with the President of the Catalan Government Carles Puigdemont – in charge of the keys that opened the schools that were to be used as polling stations on the day of the referendum. The fact that Ms Ponsatí took full responsibility for the opening of the polling stations, freed the school headmasters from any possible legal claim.
Ms.Clara Ponsatí, Catalan Minister of Education, suffered an agression during the Catalan Independence Referendum, while she was protecting the Education Department polling station.
On October 30th 2017, Clara Ponsatí exiled to Brussels with Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and three other cabinet members: Lluís Puig, Antoni Comín and Meritxell Serret. She was elected again in December 2017 when new elections were held, yet resigned in order to secure a pro-independence majority on January 28th 2018. She left Brussels in March 2018 and returned to Scotland where she continued with her duties at the University of Saint Andrews. She tweeted “Catalan exile reaches the United Kingdom. Enjoying my freedom of movement as a European citizen, this week I am now back at the University of St Andrews.”
On March 24th 2018, the Spanish judge Pablo Llarena issued a European Arrest Warrant. Ms Ponsati handed herself in to Scottish police in order to fulfill the EAW requirements. She testified in a Scottish court on 12 April 2018. Her lawyer and rector of the University of Glasgow, Mr. Aamer Anwar, declared that “Clara Ponsatí never committed any criminal offence” and called the actions of the Spanish judiciary “unnacceptable”.
Finally, the EAW was dropped by the same Spanish judge on 19th July 2018. Crucially, it was dropped before the Scottish court could issue a verdict. Along with other Catalan leaders, she had been accused of rebellion and misappropriation of public funds in relation to the independence referendum. However, Ms Ponsatí has argued that the charges against her are politically-motivated, yet claimed that she would not receive a fair trial if she returned to Spain to fight her case.
Clara Ponsatí was chosen as the Person of the Year in 2018 by the Scottish newspaper The National. She has participated in various political acts, as well as conferences in the UK. In January 2019, for instance, she was asked to participate in a talk in the London School of Economics and in June 2018 she attended the SNP’s Spring Conference together with her lawyer, Mr. Ameer Anwar. Moreover, she can move freely around Europe and so she has travelled to and attended conferences in many European countries.
In April 2019, Ms. Ponsatí – along with former Minister in exile (Mr. Toni Comín), joined Catalan President Mr. Carles Puigdemont’s candidacy in European election. The candidacy, which was called “Free for Europe”, was declared inelegible by the Spanish electoral board after a petition from Spanish rightwing parties. Mr. Puigdemont appealed to the Spanish Supreme Court for stamping down on their political rights. After some deliberation, the Court overruled the decision of the electoral board and allowed Puigdemont, Ponsatí and Comín to run in European elections. According to the results, Ponsatí is expected to take a seat as MEP after Brexit takes place.
On the same day, Ms. Ponsatí ran in Barcelona’s City Council elections without any restrictions from the Spanish Electoral Board.
- The Spanish Constitution states (Article 10.2) that the laws regarding fundamental rights will be interpreted in compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international treaties on the matter. Spain signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1977 and it was included in the Official State Gazette -BOE- number 103, published on 30th April 1977 (pages 9,337 to 9,343).
- Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution guarantees physical integrity.
On the ancient treason law, BBC News (in English):
On the withdrawal of the arrest warrant, BBC News (in English):
On the day when the directors of the Catalan schools handed the keys to their schools to Clara Ponsatí and Carles Puigdemont (in Catalan):
On the 1st October 2017 at the doors of the Department of Education, La Vanguardia (in Spanish):
On the 1st October 2017 at the doors of the Department of Education, VilaWeb (in Catalan):
On Clara Ponsatí’s career, Diari de Girona (in Catalan):
Podcast. London School of Economics and Political Science, ‘What Now? The Political and Judicial Future of the Catalan Independentist Movement’, January 2019 (in English):
Video. Clara Ponsatí and Aamer Anwar at the SNP Spring Conference 2018:
Human Rights Watch: “Spain: Police Used Excessive Force in Catalonia” https://t.co/0uIOX4typd
Amnesty International: “Spain: Excessive use of force by National Police and Civil Guard in Catalonia”
Praga group. Report on the violations of the 1950 European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) in Catalonia on 1st October 2017 and in the aftermath.
Spanish Magna Carta
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights