SPANISH justice was humiliated yesterday as a Supreme Court judge withdrew European and international arrest warrants for Professor Clara Ponsati, deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and another four political exiles.

The move came after a German court ruled that Puigdemont could only be extradited for embezzlement and not the more serious charge of rebellion.

Judge Pablo Llarena, who has been overseeing the case against pro-independence figures involved in the October referendum in Catalonia, decided not to try to prosecute Puigdemont for the lesser charge and withdrew the warrants.

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However, he kept in place the Spanish national arrest warrants. This means that while Ponsati and Puigdemont, along with former ministers in Brussels – Toni Comin, Meritxell Serret and Lluis Puig – and Marta Rovira, in Switzerland, can travel freely in Europe, they face arrest if they return to Spain.

Llarena also backed down on a proposal to pursue a European Court of Justice ruling against Germany’s judicial authorities for refusing Puigdemont’s extradition for the crime of rebellion.

Nine pro-independence figures are still in prison, including Catalonia’s former vice-president Oriol Junqueras. All are charged with rebellion and this development is likely to further increase pressure on Spain’s judiciary to drop that allegation.

Reaction to Llarena’s move was swift, with Puigdemont tweeting: “Today is a day to claim more strongly than ever the freedom of prisoners… Remove the OEDE [European arrest warrant] is the demonstration of the weakness of the judicial cause immense. Revoke the pre-trial [detention] would be the demonstration that the Spanish justice begins to act as the European one.”

Catalan President, Quim Torra, said: “Congratulations, president @KRLS [Puigdemont], to the new political and judicial victory. A major victory. Our voice is free and soon it will also be the country!”

Finnish MP Mikko Karna, who hosted Puigdemont in Finland before his arrest in Germany, also offered his congratulations: “You are a free man. This is exactly what I have been saying all along: #Spain will not accept extradition based on misuse of public funds. It has no evidence on that whatsoever. Shame on Spain!”

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond told The National: “It has been no easy thing for Clara to have been under the threat of prison for so many months. I think it is a good move for the new Spanish government as this is a de-escalation which I hope will pave the way for meaningful decisions about the way forward.

“I like to think that one factor in the Spanish authorities’ calculations was that they thought they might get short shrift from a Scottish sheriff.”

Ponsati’s lawyer Aamer Anwar said she would be at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Monday morning. He said she had, from the beginning, refuted all the charges against her and he described the withdrawal of the warrants as “a tremendous victory for the Catalan politicians and people”.

He added: “We welcome the withdrawal of the European Arrest Warrants albeit that we still await official confirmation from Spain.

“But whilst this is a tremendous victory we also remind people that political prisoners still remain in custody in Spain.

“Clara and others have not had their national warrants withdrawn, thus making Clara a political exile which means if she were to return home she would be arrested.

“If President Sanchez is truly different from the regime of Rajoy then the only solution is a political solution which must mean a guaranteed return of the political exiles and release of all political prisoners with no conditions attached.”

From Catalonia, activist Alan R King told The National: “This is just a small step... The fight remains long and fraught with difficulties. The EU still needs to change and assume responsibility and the functions for which it was supposedly founded.”

In a statement, the Catalan Defence Committee Scotland said: “Democracy is not a crime and Clara is not a criminal. Assurances must be given that Clara and other exiles can return to their home of Catalonia without fear of arrest or persecution and political prisoners must be released.”