Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on Friday spoke publicly for the first time since he became the subject of criminal prosecution by Spain this week — saying the legal moves are a strike against democracy.
Puigdemont fled to Belgium early this week after Madrid’s top prosecutor said criminal charges might be coming over the region’s failed attempt to secede from Spain.
Friday, he criticized Madrid for what he called “attacks with runaway fury.”
He also demanded the immediate release of his former ministers, calling their pre-trial custody a “most serious attack on democracy.”
“Behind bars, my government is infinitely more free than their deluded jailers,” Puigdemont said.
Authorities began exploring arrest warrants for Puigdemont and ex-Catalan ministers who failed to appear in court to face charges related to the region’s bid for full independence, which was spurred by an Oct. 1 referendum.
Puigdemont — who faces charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement — became the subject of an international arrest warrant on Thursday, along with four former ministers.
An extradition request for Puigdemont could put Brussels — which headquarters the European Union — in an uncomfortable position. Although the 28-state alliance has remained silent on Catalan independence, Belgium allows for political asylum for EU members.
On Thursday, a judge ordered jail for eight former officials who did comply with orders to appear in court, a move to safeguard against flight from prosecution.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy removed Puigdemont and the others from power last week and set new elections for Dec. 21 to replace them — powers granted by Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.
Puigdemont on Friday called the jailing of his officials before the elections, “a coup” against the December vote.
By Sara Shayanian