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Catalan separatist leader Puigdemont walks free from Italian court

OVIEDO, Spain

Fugitive Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont walked out of an Italian court a free man on Monday after a judge decided to delay the hearing on his extradition to Spain.

Puigdemont’s lawyer told press that the hearing will be suspended until a European court decides whether or not the politician can have immunity as a current Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

Upon leaving the court, Puigdemont told supporters he was “very happy” with the judge’s decision.

The former Catalan president has been battling attempts to be extradited to Spain since he fled the country following an illegal independence referendum and unilateral declaration of independence in 2017.

The exiled politician has been living in Belgium since the failed independence push and has appeared before courts in Belgium, Germany and Italy in response to the European arrest warrant issued by the Spanish Supreme Court. So far, Puigdemont has managed to avoid extradition to Spain, where he faces charges including rebellion and sedition.

His most recent arrest occurred on Sept. 23 in Sardinia, where he was set to attend a Catalan cultural event. He was soon after released but returned to the Italian island on Monday for the extradition hearing.

Although free for now, his future could depend on what the European Court of Justice decides to do with his immunity.

He was given automatic protection from prosecution when he was elected MEP in 2019. But in March, the European Parliament voted to strip him of his immunity, and his appeal was later denied.

However, following his arrest in Sardinia, Puigdemont’s lawyers filed a request to the European Court of Justice to restore his immunity, citing the impending threat of being arrested.

Puigdemont’s victory in the Sardinia court, however temporary, was celebrated by figures like current Catalan President Pere Aragones and other key members of the Catalan separatist movement.

“The justice that is lacking in Spain comes, and will continue to come from Europe,” tweeted Oriol Junqueras, who served as Puigdemont’s vice president but did not flee the country.

Junqueras was eventually sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in the independence attempt but was freed in June after the Spanish government issued a pardon.

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