Carles Puigdemont remains in Belgium
Several former ministers in Catalan government attend hearing
Spain’s high court has ordered eight former ministers from Catalonia’s dissolved government to be detained without bail, while the state prosecutor sought a Europe-wide arrest warrant for ousted leader Carles Puigdemont.
Puigdemont left Spain and appeared in Brussels on Monday, the same day Spain’s state prosecutor announced he was seeking charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds against him and 13 ex-ministers.
The high court, known as the the Audiencia Nacional, summoned Puigdemont and the former ministers over their contentious independence drive, but only nine of them turned up at the session Thursday, and without Puigdemont.
The judge ordered eight be remanded in custody, while the ninth was granted bail of 50,000 euros ($58,000).
Jaume Alonso Cuevillas, the lawyer for most of the former ministers, said the decision was “politically motivated” and “disproportionate,” arguing that judge could have simply seized their passports to stop them from leaving the country.
Puigdemont and the other four ministers are believed to still be in the Belgian capital. The state prosecutor in Madrid asked the court to issue national and European arrest warrants for all five.
Puigdemont’s no-show was the latest act of defiance from the renegade leader, who has caused consternation in Madrid following an independence referendum on October 1, which Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled illegal. The crisis came to a head last week when the Catalan Parliament declared unilateral independence.
In response, Madrid sacked Puigdemont and his government, and stripped Catalonia of its cherished autonomy.
Puigdemont: Charges ‘punish ideas’
A separate case against six other Catalan lawmakers related to the independence bid was adjourned at the Supreme Court. All six, including Parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, showed up to the session.
Puigdmeont, who still considers himself Catalonia’s rightful leader, denied he was evading justice, claiming that the charges had no legal basis and sought “only to punish ideas,” according to his spokesperson.
“We are facing a political trial,” the spokesperson said.
According to the spokesperson, the former ministers who turned up to court Thursday did so to make a complaint against the Spanish judicial system’s “lack of guarantees” to allow the pursuit of political ideas.
In a video message recorded in Belgium and released Thursday, Puigdemont condemned the detention of members of his cabinet as an attack on democracy. He calling the move a “very, very bad mistake.”
He said that “political imprisonments without precedents are unacceptable in Europe and in the 21st century.”
“We have to fight it the way Catalans do, like we fight the things that have made us big as a country, as a nation and as a society,” Puigdemont said. “Without violence, with peace and respect for all options.”
Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer, Paul Bekaert, told Reuters the former leader would cooperate with Spanish and Belgian authorities.
“The climate is not good, it is better to take some distance,” he said.
Puigdemont has denied he traveled to Brussels to seek political asylum. In public remarks on Tuesday, he claimed he was in the Belgian capital to “to act with freedom and safety” and to seek support from Europe in finding a diplomatic solution.
CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Dakin Andone contributed to this report