TEN days ago she was contemplating a future in a Spanish jail with her political colleagues in exile from Catalonia but now Professor Clara  Ponsati is back at her old job at St Andrews University and grateful for the support she is receiving here.

In words of defiance to the Spanish Government that wants to put her in prison, Professor Ponsati says she will use her spare time to carry on the fight for independence for Catalonia.

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Having fled to Belgium with the elected Catalonian President Carles Puidgemont and three fellow ministers after the Spanish Government’s clampdown following the referendum on independence – “which was legal even in Spanish law and not a rebellion,” she said – Ponsati has had to leave behind her appointment as education minister for Catalonia and resume her academic life in St Andrews.

The Barcelona-born Professor of Economics, speaking exclusively to The National, said: “I have my old job back and will concentrate on that, but I will help, I will do what I can for Catalonia.”

The threat to Professor Ponsati and her fellow exiles including Carles Puidgemont is very real and definitely not over as has been reported elsewhere.

“If I go back to Spain I will be arrested,” she said. “That’s what the judge has said so I presume the police would come and get me.”

A European Arrest Warrant was issued in the Spanish courts for Prof Ponsati and the other exiles, but that has been withdrawn, though perhaps only temporarily.

She explained: “Yesterday the Spanish Government issued a statement that they were not going to try and extradite us right away, but they still say they will do it in due time. What that means I do not know.

“In fact they are under an obligation to do it if they keep pursuing me in Spain, so we’ll see what they do and how they argue it because it is a tough one for them to argue.”

The professor has hopes that appeals to a higher authority, such as the United Nations, will show that Spanish law does not correspond to international laws – though she doesn’t expect any support for that viewpoint from the EU or UK.

“There are a couple of appeals to the United Nations,” she explained, “including one by Puigdemont, about specific violations of human rights so I’m hoping that we get some progress.

“Unfortunately politics these days is not a matter of principles, and governments who declare themselves democratic are prepared to put up with major abuses which is what we are seeing from the European Commission.

“I understand the British government’s lack of concern because they do not want to alienate an ally with whom they have to deal over many things, like Gibraltar, for example.

“It would be nice to see democratic principles held and supported by governments, but I’m not surprised that they are not.”

She is in no doubt what returning to Spain might mean: “If I am convicted of the crimes they allege I could be sent to prison for up to 30 years for sedition and rebellion. Their allegations are that we are like terrorists, and meanwhile they are holding four innocent people in jail who have not been tried and are being treated worse than terrorists.

“They have been pursuing us for imaginary crimes. They claim there was a rebellion with violence but there was no violence whatsoever on our side. The only violence was on the side of the Spanish police.

“It is very tough to realise that the totalitarian past of the Francoist regime has come back and is still in control of major Spanish institutions such as the police and the judiciary.”

Ponsati is in touch with Puigdemont and confirmed that he is “fine” and she wants to send a message that she is “very happy and satisfied” with the personal support she has had from everyone at St Andrews University – “my colleagues and the university authorities have been very supportive”.

She is also well aware of the political situation in Scotland: “There is a similarity with Catalonia in that you have a strong sense of nationhood but are part of a bigger state, but the major difference is that in Britain it is acccpted that the issue would be settled by a referendum, and if the Scottish Government calls one there will be discussion but there will not be authoritarian reprisals with people being put in prison.”