CLARA Ponsati, the Catalan politician exiled in Scotland, is being “targeted for her political beliefs” by the Spanish government, according to St Andrews University.

In a strongly worded statement, the institution came out fighting for Ponsati. She was the university’s head of economics before serving as Catalan’s minister of education and recently returned to her post in the Fife town.

Courts in Spain last week re-issued a warrant for her arrest on charges of rebellion. St Andrews principal Professor Sally Mapstone said she and colleagues were “committed to protect and support” Ponsati.

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“As her employer and an institution committed to the defence of free speech, we are deeply concerned by recent developments, their motives and potential consequences,” she added. “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.”

It’s a bold statement from the university, which is Scotland’s oldest.

Police Scotland are in possession of a European arrest warrant, and Ponsati has said she will hand herself over to the force at some point this week.

Her fate will the rest in the hands of a Sheriff in Edinburgh. It will be up to them to decide if the European arrest warrant is valid and, if it is, if there any reasons why Scottish courts should not comply.

Ponsati’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said they would oppose the extradition on “the basis that this is a political prosecution ... and a systematic attempt to criminalise the desire for independence by more than two million voters in Catalonia”.

He added: “We will submit there are no guarantees of due process in Spain, of a right to a fair trial in a country where most members of the Catalan government are already in prison or in exile. If returned, we submit she will be subjected to degrading and inhumane treatment by the Spanish authorities.”

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, leading human rights and extradition lawyer Karen Todner, said Ponsati had a strong case.

“Sedition is not a criminal offence and you have to show dual criminality, so if extradition takes place it has to be an offence both in the requesting state and in the requested state, ie Scotland,” Todner said.

“And the second ground is that there is a bar of extradition for extraneous considerations, one of which is that the request for extradition is improperly motivated. That means it’s politically motivated and if this can be shown to be a politically motivated request for an extradition warrant then she could defeat the application for extradition.”

There was some disagreement among Scotland’s politicians over what should happen.

Ian Murray, the former Labour shadow secretary of state for Scotland, said Ponsati had broken the law and should face the consequences.

“Someone has been accused of breaking the law & should be given the opportunity to clear their name in that country’s court. We would expect the same so respect the law (even if you disagree with the law),” he tweeted.

The SNP’s Pete Wishart replied: “It seems like trying to progress a political vision for your nation through peaceful and democratic means is not going to secure support from Scottish Labour.”

Meanwhile, the SNP MSP Christina McKelvie has promised to raise Ponsati’s case at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities at the Council of Europe this week.

McKelvie, who is a representative of the Chamber of Regions in the Council of Europe, said: “In raising this in Strasbourg I will be urging the Council of Europe, whose job is to safeguard human rights across the continent, to closely monitor these cases – and to take action to uphold individuals’ rights to their political beliefs if necessary.

“The way to solve political disagreements should be through debate and at the ballot box, not by pursuing elected politicians across the EU simply for seeking to fulfil the mandate they were elected upon.

“There is understandable public interest in the matter not just in Scotland but around Europe and it will feature high on the agenda in Strasbourg this week.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has written to the Spanish ambassador in London requesting a meeting as a “matter of urgency”.

He said: “I write with deep frus- tration and anger at the recent developments regarding politicians from Catalonia. It is deeply disappointing that, as part of this pursuit of pro-Catalan independence politicians, a former minister, who is a respected academic in Scotland, now faces charges of rebellion – a charge not recognised in Scots law.”