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Seeking Swiss safety, Catalan activist snubs Spanish probe


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MADRID — A leading Catalan politician has vowed to carry on advocating for Catalan independence from her current base in Switzerland where she is evading a Spanish judicial probe for her role in last year’s illegal secession attempt.

Anna Gabriel, the leader of the anti-establishment Popular Unity Candidature known as CUP, told Swiss newspaper Le Temps that the Spanish Supreme Court probe is politically motivated and that she will be more useful to her party in Geneva than “behind bars.”

“I will not go to Madrid,” she said in remarks published by the newspaper Tuesday. “Since I will not have a fair trial at home, I have looked for a country that can protect my rights.”

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four members of his former Cabinet have also ignored a court summon late last year and are in Belgium.

Spanish authorities initially sought Puigdemont’s extradition but later dropped the arrest warrant saying they were looking to wrap the investigation up before seeking his return. Puigdemont says he wants to be reinstated in his old job as Catalonia’s leader.

Gabriel’s move to Switzerland takes to another European country the challenge to Spanish authorities. Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government has cracked down on those who disobeyed court orders to stop a banned independence referendum last October and pushed ahead with a secession declaration based on the vote’s results.

Madrid removed Puigdemont’s Cabinet and called regional elections. But plans to form a new Catalan government remain in limbo amid legal hurdles to re-elect Puigdemont, whom Spain considers a fugitive, and political discord among the separatists, who have a slim majority in the Catalan parliament.

In a document shared on Tuesday by the CUP party, Gabriel’s lawyer Isabel Afonso told the Supreme Court that “there is no right to a just trial in this case” and that the activist-turned-politician’s “fundamental rights would be severely compromised if she voluntarily accepted her taking part in the procedures.”

There was no immediate reaction from Judge Pablo Llarena, who is investigating nearly two dozen people linked to the October events in Catalonia.

Two of them are appearing before Llarena on Tuesday. They are Artur Mas, Puigdemont’s predecessor as Catalonia’s leader, and Neus Lloveras, the head of an association of pro-independence Catalan mayors. They face possible rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges, which are punishable with decades in prison under Spanish law.