Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has called for the immediate release of all Catalonia's pro-independence leaders and politicians incarcerated in Spanish jails.
“I call for the immediate release of all of my colleagues still in Spanish prisons. It is a shame for Europe to still have political prisoners,” Puigdemont said on Friday upon his release on a $92,000 bail from a prison in the German town of Neumuenster.
“The time for dialogue has arrived,” he said, noting that years of Catalan demands for dialogue have met with only a “violent and repressive response.”
“Now, seeing the fall of that response, it is time to do politics,” Puigdemont added.
He said the Spanish officials have no excuse to avoid “a political dialogue with the Catalan political leaders in order to find a political solution of our demands, not by criminal law.”
Puigdemont thanked the prison staff “for their professionalism and for their respect” and the inmates for “their solidarity and help for me to adapt quickly to the situation.”
On Thursday, pro-independence Catalans celebrated the German court's decision to release Puigdemont and also protested for the freedom of other jailed Catalan leaders in Spain.
The former Catalan president can move freely in Germany pending a decision on his extradition, but he has to report to police on a weekly basis and cannot leave Germany without prosecutors’ consent.
In Madrid, the Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Puigdemont “is not a victim of political persecution, he is a fugitive from justice.”
Mendez de Vigo said the government respects Spanish and German court decisions and does not interfere in their rulings.
German police arrested Puigdemont on March 25 as he was crossing the border with Denmark by car. The arrest came just two days after Spain's Supreme Court vowed to prosecute 13 key separatists, including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull, over their role in the region's failed breakaway bid.
Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena had issued an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont, accusing Catalonia’s former president of organizing the vote on secession in October last year.
If found guilty, the separatist figures will face up to 30 years in prison, while twelve more face less serious charges such as disobedience.
The UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva said it had registered a complaint from Puigdemont. Earlier, the lawyer of the former Catalan leader had expressed concern that Madrid is likely to violate Puigdemont's right to be elected and his freedom of expression and association by officials in Madrid.
The independence referendum, called by Puigdemont despite objections from Madrid, triggered an unprecedented political standoff between Catalonia and Spain. Puigdemont used the yes vote as a base to make a declaration of independence on October 27, prompting Madrid to dismantle his government and the regional chamber, where he made the declaration.
Following the referendum vote, Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution on charges of sedition and rebellion. A number of his ministers, along with senior regional authorities, have been jailed or freed on bail over similar charges.
Nine other Catalan separatist leaders have also been imprisoned following the failed separatist attempt in the northeastern region.
The new Catalan parliament was formed after snap elections in December in which pro-independence parties, like that of Puigdemont’s, retained their majority.
While separatist parties won Catalonia's regional elections, they have been unable to form a government for the region as numerous leaders are in exile abroad or in jail.
If a new leader is not elected, new regional elections will be held by May 22.