Puigdemont held a news conference at Press Club Brussels Europe on Tuesday [Yves Herman/Reuters]
Barcelona, Spain – Dismissed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has remained in Brussels instead of returning to Barcelona to face a summons for rebellion, sedition and other charges relative to Catalonia’s declaration of independence.
Joaquim Forn and Dolors Bassa, the former ministers of the Interior and Labour, returned late Tuesday night.
It was originally reported Puigdemont boarded the plane alongside them, but those reports later turned out to be false.
Forn and Bassa were met by a large group of taunting pro-union demonstrators at Barcelona’s airport last night. They chanted “Welcome to Spain!” and “Where’s your Republic?” as the dismissed functionaries returned.
Paul Bekaert, Puigdemont’s lawyer in Belgium, told Dutch television that the dismissed president will not return to Spain: “No, he won’t go because he prefers to observe and wait.”
The Catalan government was sacked after they declared independence last Friday. The Spanish prosecutor submitted a complaint against Puigdemont and 13 members of his government for the declaration of independence.
The former Catalan government is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday and Friday.
The 14 ex-ministers must pay a deposit 6.2m euros ($7.2m). The court has said their property will be seized if they cannot deliver the total amount.
Nuria Bou, a 32-year-old accountant enjoying a coffee in Barcelona on Wednesday morning, said Puigdemont choosing to stay in Brussels was troubling.
“People used to escape to Mexico or France under Franco,” Bou said, referring to the far-right dictatorship that controlled Spain from 1939 to 1975.
Catalan and other minority languages and public display of culture were made illegal under his rule. Those who tried to institute reforms were either arrested or fled to other countries.
“Have we reached that point again?” Bou asked.
The accountant went on to say that it was discouraging that Puigdemont chose to stay in Brussels as his ministers returned. “He doesn’t want to become a martyr,” Bou said, “but maybe that’s what we need.”
Josep Costa, a professor of political science at Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra who specialises in the right of self-determination, cautioned that Catalans should wait for Puigdemont’s explanation. “People basically expect they will be jailed without trial.”
Spain is currently pursuing expedited legal proceedings against the former Catalan government, as well as the former head of Catalonia’s police force, Josep Lluis Trapero.
There are also two pro-independence organisers, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez of Omnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly, respectively, are currently being held without bail pending trial.
Cuixart and Sanchez were charged with sedition for their separatism. They have become rallying points for pro-independence demonstrators in Catalonia.
Considering their detention, “it makes sense that at least the president does not surrender himself,” Costa concluded.
Judge Carmen Lamela of the National Audience court is expected to ask the Spanish prosecutor to issue a warrant for Puigdemont’s arrest, valid in all of the European Union if the Catalan leader does not appear.
Puigdemont said on Tuesday that he did not go to Belgium to apply for political asylum, though it is one of the few nations that allows citizens of other EU states to apply for political asylum.