GENEVA – The leader of a pro-Catalan independence party wanted for questioning by the Spanish authorities for her alleged role in a banned separatist referendum and its consequences, for which she could face charges of rebellion, has fled to Switzerland, she told journalists on Tuesday.
Anna Gabriel, of the left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), the third separatist power in the regional Catalan parliament which supported the government of Carles Puigdemont until it was deposed by the Spanish state in the wake of the controversial independence declaration last year, said she would not travel to Madrid, where she was due to attend a hearing on Wednesday at the Supreme Court.
“I am being persecuted for my political activity and the government press has already declared me guilty,” she told Switzerland’s Le Temps news in an interview. “Because I will not have a fair trial in my country, I sought a country that would protect my rights.”
Gabriel was the latest Catalan politician to enter into self-exile, following in the footsteps of former regional president Puigdemont, who remained in Brussels along with five of his ex-ministers.
Four other pro-independence figureheads, including former vice-president Oriol Junqueras, have been held in pre-trial detention since November.
“I have always campaigned in favor of a referendum, but a peaceful one. The Catalan question needs a political resolution, but the Spanish authorities are intent on muzzling separatism with repression,” Gabriel said.
The former regional minister later told Swiss channel RTS news that she was considering relaunching an academic career in Switzerland, given that she used to be a law professor at the University of Barcelona.
She said she had not sought political asylum and would only apply for it in the Alpine country if Spain drew up an extradition request that prevented her from working, she added.
Gabriel was a member of the Catalan parliament for two years until the chamber was dissolved by Spain on Oct. 27, 2017, following the activation of Article 155 of the Constitution to reel back the region’s autonomy and bring its institutions under Madrid’s direct control.
Snap elections called for Dec. 21 saw separatist parties cobble together a loose majority in the regional parliament and Puigdemont was once again officially proposed as the candidate for president.
There was ongoing debate as to whether he could legally take on the role from exile in Brussels.