SPAIN’S attempt to extradite Clara Ponsati is an “abuse of process”, and a distraction from the “brutal” behaviour of the police during last October’s referendum on independence, the exiled politician’s legal team has said.

Ponsati was in Edinburgh Sheriff court yesterday, with her lawyers “utterly refuting” Spain’s charges of violent rebellion and misuse of €1.6 million (£1.39m) of public funds.

The academic, who briefly served as Catalonia’s education minister, fled to Belgium with Carles Puigdemont and three other cabinet members when Madrid sacked the regional government and imposed direct rule after the October 27 declaration of independence.

Ponsati returned to Scotland, to the job at St Andrew’s University she’d held before Puigdemont appointed her to government in March. The professor had been in Fife just over two weeks when Spain’s supreme court reactivated dormant international arrest warrants for all of the exiled politicians.

Yesterday morning as the preliminary hearing of the extradition trial got underway in Edinburgh Sheriff Court, a large crowd of supporters braved the freezing wind, gathering over the road, outside the National Museum of Scotland.

Many waved Catalan flags, others held up signs saying “hands off our Clara”.

Gordon Jackson, QC and dean of the faculty of advocates, represented the Catalan in court, telling Sheriff Nigel Ross that what Spain was doing was political, not legal.

“The fundamental position which is taken here is the abuse of process,” he said.

“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.”

There would, he added, need to be a lot of work done, and witnesses would need to be called.

Ross agreed to an eight-day trial starting on July 30 with preliminary hearings on May 15 and July 5.

Afterwards, when Ponsati and her solicitor, Aamer Anwar, made a brief statement, saying that they would “fight the extradition on many grounds”.

Anwar said there would be six thrusts to the legal argument deployed in defence of the academic.

Firstly, they would “challenge the validity of the warrant as the facts do not show that any offence has been committed by Clara Ponsati”.

They would then argue that the crime of violent rebellion does not exist in the law of Scotland, that the warrant has been issued for the purpose of prosecuting Ponsati for her political opinions, and that if extradited she would be unable to get a fair trial.

The solicitor said the legal team would also suggest that Ponsati’s extradition would be “unjust and oppressive and incompatible with her human rights, which will include her rights not to be subjected to pre-trial detention without time limit, right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association.”

Finally, he added, “we will submit that Spain has systematically abused the process of the extradition treaty to set out allegations which they know cannot amount to crimes in their courts”.

The solicitor pointed out that in the 19-page warrant put together by the Spanish authorities, that they had accused Ponsati of “orchestrating violence”, yet failed to “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 6000 state forces, who are accused of carrying out brutal, unprovoked attacks on peaceful Catalans at over 2000 polling stations,” he added.

“In a civilised democracy police officers are the guardians of law and order yet the Spanish police brutality on October 1 [the day of the Catalan independence referendum] has been compared to the dark days of Francoism.”

German courts last week rejected Spain’s extradition request for Puigdemont, dismissing the charge of rebellion.

It released the former president of the generalitat on bail, but warned that extradition to Spain was possible on the misuse of public funds charge.

In among the crowd outside was Alba Crespi, a member of the ANC, the Catalonian Yes campaign.

She told the National she was concerned Ponsati would not have a fair trial: “I think there’s a fundamental question about respecting individuals rights and democracy and there is a danger that the interpretation of the law by the Spanish Government is not as the law was originally written.”

The Catalan added: “There is a danger that if [Ponsati] is extracted to Spain she might not have a fair trial.”

Staff of the Spanish consulate were in court yesterday, though, in an odd twist of fate, they were there as witnesses in the crown’s case against serial protester Sean Clerkin.

The Scottish Resistance activist was up on a breach of the peace charge for “occupying” Spain’s consulate in Edinburgh last October.