The former Catalan minister Carla Ponsati will fight her extradition to Spain on the basis that the Spanish authorities are abusing international law to pursue a “politically motivated prosecution”.
Her lawyer Aamer Anwar said following a court hearing in Edinburgh that the European arrest warrant issued for his client was a “grotesque distortion of the truth”.
He also claimed the “brutal” behaviour of Spanish police officers at polling stations last October, when Catalonia held a controversial independence referendum, had been “compared to the dark days of Francoism”.
Prof Ponsati was greeted by a crowd of supporters on Thursday as she arrived at the city’s Sheriff Court.
During a brief procedural hearing, Gordon Jackson QC said he intended to challenge the extradition on grounds including the validly of the warrant, the extraditability of the offences and his client’s human rights.
He told Sheriff Nigel Ross: “The fundamental position which is taken here is the abuse of process. This is wrapping up in legalistic form something which is purely a political decision.
“It is an attempt to squeeze it into some legal formulae and we intend to show that’s exactly what is happening here.”
Mr Jackson also told the court there was a substantial amount of work still to be done on the case, and said he expected to lead evidence from experts in Spanish law.
Further procedural hearings will be held on May 15 and July 5, before a full extradition hearing begins on July 30. It is expected to last for two weeks.
After the hearing, Aamer Anwar, Prof Ponsati’s lawyer, issued a statement on her behalf saying she “utterly refutes” the charge, is an “esteemed” university professor and has “never committed a criminal act in her life.
He added that if his client is extradited she faces the prospect of up to 33 years in prison for “peacefully promoting a referendum”.
Mr Anwar said the validity of the warrant would be challenged on the basis that no offence had been committed by Prof Ponsati, that the charge of “violent rebellion” does not exist in Scots law, and that the warrant has been issued in order to persecute his client for her political opinions.
Last week, in a blow to the Spanish authorities, a German court ruled that Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan independence leader, could not be extradited to Spain on a charge of rebellion and ordered his release on bail while it considers his return on a lesser charge.
Mr Anwar added: “She is accused of orchestrating violence, yet the warrant fails in over 19 pages to ever specify a single act of violence or incitement attributable to her.
“Unsurprisingly there is no mention of the actions of several thousand Spanish police and 6,000 state security forces who are accused of carrying out brutal unprovoked attacks on peaceful Catalans at over 2,000 polling stations.
“Scotland has a proud history of protecting those who face a grave risk of injustice and oppression and we will argue that Spain is guilty of abusing the European Arrest Warrant which was never meant to be used as a tool of political repression.”
The academic, formerly head of the school of economics at St Andrews University, was made the subject of an arrest warrant along with Mr Puigdemont and three other ministers.
She returned to Scotland in March after fleeing in the wake of the unsuccessful bid to declare independence from Spain.
A crowd funding page set up to cover her legal costs has raised more than £234,000.