A FORMER Catalan MP has refused to attend a court hearing in Madrid today into the independence referendum last October, which the Spanish government declared illegal.

Anna Gabriel, from the pro-independence left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) said she was wanted for “political reasons” and would not receive a fair trial. Several other pro-independence MPs and public figures have been in prison for almost four months for their part in the poll and sacked ministers – including former president Carles Puigdemont – are in self-imposed exile in Brussels.

Gabriel – who could face sedition and rebellion charges in Spain – is now in Switzerland and said she would seek political asylum there should any attempt be made to extradite her.

She told the Swiss daily Le Temps: “I will not go to Madrid. They are persecuting me for my political activity and the government press has already found me guilty.

“As I wouldn’t get a fair trial at home, I looked for a country that could protect my rights.

“I will be more useful to my movement free than behind bars.”

Her Swiss lawyer Olivier Peter, a high-profile human rights advocate, said an extradition request would be illegal because Gabriel’s trial would be on political grounds.

He also thought it unlikely that an extradition request would be “unlikely” after the Supreme Court judge hearing the cases – Pablo Llorena – withdrew the European arrest warrant he had requested for Puigdemont.

Peter said: “We are confident that the Swiss authorities do not legitimise the imprisonment … for wanting to defend the right to vote.”

Gabriel added: “When I saw the fate of some of my colleagues who are in jail since December, I realised I had to leave. I’m not the only one who could go to jail.

“I have always campaigned for the referendum, but in a peaceful way.

“The question of Catalonia must be resolved politically, while the Spanish authorities want to silence independence through repression.”

She shared the view of former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras that the situation in Catalonia is similar to Turkey – which is trying to stop Islamist militant violence spreading from Syria and which has seen a crackdown on suspected supporters of a failed coup in 2016.

Gabriel said it was developing into a witch-hunt with “almost 900 people under investigation, among them teachers, police, politicians and even simple voters”.

Earlier, former Catalan president Artur Mas – accused of belonging to the strategic committee for independence – told Llorena: “The declaration of independence had a purely symbolic value.”

He became the most visible figure of the independence movement in Catalonia in 2012, when he called an election that saw pro-independence parties win a majority in parliament for the first time.

Mas resigned as Catalan president in 2016 when the CUP refused to back a pro-independence government led by him and ceded the post to Puigdemont.

He was barred from public office after being found guilty of disobeying the Constitutional Court by holding a non-binding referendum in 2014.

The jailed and exiled politicians are only the tip of a giant judicial iceberg – and Gabriel’s “almost 900 people under investigation” include politicians, teachers, firefighters and other public servants who are all being probed by more than 30 courts for their part in the referendum.

More than 700 mayors, around three-quarters of Catalonia’s total, are facing prosecutors’ complaints for disobedience.

Former chief of the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan Police) Josep Lluís Trapero is facing charges of sedition for his role in policing the referendum poll and appeared at the Supreme Court on Monday.

While the Spanish National Police cracked down on voters and savagely beat hundreds of them – leaving 1066 injured – the Mossos avoided using violence.

Now lower officers in the Mossos face allegations of disobedience and inaction during the poll.

Teachers from all over Catalonia have been accused of inciting hatred by making allegedly derogatory comments in classes against the National Police the day after the October 1 vote.

Firefighters who stood in front of National Police officers to stop them beating voters, hoteliers, comedians, journalists and media chiefs are also under investigation, along with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, who has been accused of “rebellion” for appearing at pro-independence rallies.

He could face prosecution on his return to Catalonia.