No Rebellion

German decision on Catalan leader Puigdemont a sign that fleeing pays

Carles Puigdemont
That was a close one. Source: DPA

It was a mixed decision, but the main message was unmistakable. Carles Puigdemont’s decision to leave Spain has paid off.

A German court ruled late Thursday that the former Catalan separatist leader may post bail. There is hope he can get out of jail as early as Friday. More importantly, the court rejected charges of rebellion, for which Spain sought his extradition. Mr. Puigdemont could still be extradited on lesser charges of corruption, but the punishment for that is far less than the 30-year jail sentence he could have faced for inciting rebellion.

The ruling is binding as a condition of his extradition, meaning that even if German courts eventually send Mr. Puigdemont back to Spain, a charge of rebellion is still off the table. That also bodes well for six other separatist leaders who fled Spain and have so far avoided detention. By contrast, it also means that the 13 regional Catalan politicians and activists who were arrested in Spain could be handed a far greater sentence than their erstwhile leader.

The question is whether the German decision has any signaling effect on Spain itself.

Mr. Puigdemontwas freed on Friday afternoon. Judges posted bail at €75,000 ($92,000). Other conditions include that he remain in the Germany, notify authorities of his whereabouts and report to a local police station once a week in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, where he was arrested last month under a European warrant issued by Spain.

Supporters of Mr. Puigdemont in Catalonia greeted the decision by the state court of Schleswig Holstein with cheers, though German prosecutors could still choose to appeal. Spain’s government said it regretted the ruling but would accept it.

The next biggest question is whether the German decision has any signaling effect on Spain itself. The court ruled that charges of rebellion were unjustified because Mr. Puigdemont did not incite violence. This debate is similarly taking place in Spain, where a court ruled that separatist leaders could reasonably have expected violence to ensue from calling a referendum on Catalonia’s independence.

Will Spain’s courts move ahead with rebellion charges against other separatists? Upon his release, Mr. Puigdemont called on Spain to abandon attempts to prosecute separatist leaders and enter into a dialogue instead. If Spain heeds a call for talks and tensions are reduced, both sides might have Germany to thank.

Sandra Louven is a correspondent for Handelsblatt based in Madrid. Christopher Cermak of Handelsblatt Global contributed to this story. To contact the author: louven@handelsblatt.com

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