Spanish academics have recently criticised the University’s support for Clara Ponsati, while many students and staff have joined the University in vocally supporting the former Director of Economics and Finance.
A European Arrest Warrant was issued on Friday 23 March for the St Andrews professor and former Minister of Education in Catalonia on charges of rebellion and sedition.
On Monday 2 April, students, staff, and locals gathered outside the St Andrews Student Union for a demonstration in support of Professor Ponsatí.
Paul Anderson, an organiser of the demonstration and Convenor of St Andrews University Students For Independence, told The Saint, “Our demonstration on Monday was held in support of Professor Ponsatí who faces extradition for politically motivated charges of rebellion and sedition. If she is extradited, she is likely to suffer inhumane treatment, whilst the independence of the judiciary in Spain cannot be guaranteed.
He continued, “We believe it is important that we raise awareness of her case and demonstrate that the students and locals of St Andrews stand in solidarity with our Professor. We are grateful to everyone who showed up despite the weather.”
Mr Anderson echoed the outrage of many students regarding the arrest warrant, stating that “the blatant disregard for democracy, human rights and the right to choose one’s future is not only an attack on the people of Catalonia, but an attack on our liberal values of liberty, equality and human rights.”
He stated, “We urge everyone, regardless of whether they support Catalan independence or not, to support our Professor and the right of the Catalan people to decide their future.”
Mr Anderson’s comments come after the statement issued by Principal Sally Mapstone, confirming the University’s support for Professor Ponsatí. In the statement, Professor Mapstone emphasises St Andrews’ position as “an institution committed to the defence of free speech.”
She states, “In the current circumstances, we believe there are legitimate arguments that Clara is being targeted for standing up for her political beliefs. That is anathema to us, and we will continue to offer her every appropriate support, while respecting due legal process.”
The statement from the University has proved controversial, sparking a reaction letter from 24 academics from the Spain and the United Kingdom.
In this letter, the contributors say that they are “deeply troubled with the misconceptions regarding both Spain and the Spanish judiciary.”
The letter reads, “It is important to remember that Professor Ponsatí escaped to Belgium from Spain following the illegal ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ by her regional government. That is, not because of political ideas expressed democratically, but because of a series of acts destined to separate Catalonia from Spain against the law and the wishes of its citizens.”
The authors of the letter compare the reaction of the Spanish government with a hypothetical situation in the UK.
They state, “Between the 6th and the 7th of September of 2017, the government of Catalonia of which Professor Ponsatí was a member, prevented opposition parties from presenting amendments and arguments against the proposed laws to unilaterally decide the separation of Catalonia from the rest of Spain.”
The letter continues, “If the Scottish Parliament would have acted like that, the UK government would have intervened to prevent such anti-democratic and anti-constitutional act; let’s not forget that the UK government has imposed direct rule on Northern Ireland for a lot less. When the Supreme Court judges were harassed and singled out following the Brexit judgment, even the UK government had to step in to request respect for the judges.”
The letter describes the “fake news” surrounding the election in Catalonia and finishes by addressing Professor Mapstone, saying, “you are no doubt aware that your accusations against the Spanish judiciary are encouraging your own students to rally against Spanish judges,” citing the aforementioned protests as an example of this.
In the response to the letter, the a spokesperson for the University states, “Our primary responsibility to Clara is as her employer, and in that capacity we are committed to protect and help her. As her employer, we are also a university that champions freedom of speech and the rights of individuals to express their views, even when those views are controversial and challenging to the status quo.’
The University spokesperson continues, “In supporting Clara we are reflecting what we regard as justified questions about the motivations behind the proposed use of extradition measures in her case. We acknowledge too, however, as does Professor Ponsatí, the rule of law, generally and in this case, and we would ask all those expressing views equally to respect that as this matter moves through the courts.”