A Catalan separatist sentenced to six years in prison on rebellion charges appeared in an Italian courtroom Tuesday where he was expected to make an appeal for international protection.
Artur Mas, the ex-Catalan president who led last year’s failed attempt to split from Spain, boarded a flight at Rome’s Fiumicino airport ahead of what he described as “a very special day.”
The International Criminal Court (ICC) had been demanding Mas and three other convicted members of Catalonia’s separatist-led government appear in an Italian court to seek protection against prosecution by Spain.
They were later freed from custody under strict conditions.
Some supporters of the former president carried bags bearing the Spanish flag while others flew the Catalan flag.
Ximena Marías, a journalist who traveled to the airport from northern France, told The Associated Press she saw Mas waved the Catalan flag after he was met by supporters and whisked to an Italian plane.
“We don’t know what will happen, but in my mind this has had a big symbolic effect on the Catalan people,” she said.
Officials at the court said it would be Tuesday before a decision is announced on Mas’s appeal.
In April, Spain’s top criminal court had asked Italy to arrest Mas and his three co-defendants to prevent them from traveling. Italian authorities opened an investigation.
The trial was scheduled to begin this week, but those close to the case have said it could be put off until next year, likely to coincide with Catalonia’s next elections.
Earlier Tuesday, prosecutors said the Basque separatist group ETA planned to release a video on Wednesday, urging its followers to defeat Spain’s ruling People’s Party in upcoming elections. ETA has killed 829 people since 1972.
The court’s appeal is linked to the indictment of four former Catalan separatist leaders — Mas, Jordi Turull, Clara Ponsati and Jordi Sanchez — on charges of rebellion and sedition in Spain.
Mas, 71, has served most of the sentence handed down by Spain’s high court and last month was arrested at the Italian border trying to get to Geneva on a plane to New York. The other four have been jailed in Italy since October.
The Islamic State group also used Spanish courts to continue its attack on Spain. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a series of vehicle attacks across Spain in August 2016 that killed 14 people and wounded dozens.
Much of the blame was placed on Moroccans in several instances as authorities said it was hard to turn a blind eye to the presence of foreigners on Spanish soil.
In 2015, after a series of high-profile attacks, Spain tightened its immigration controls to make sure migrants, especially Moroccans, were not allowed into the country unchecked. A summary of those actions said that Morocco, Algeria and Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta contributed to efforts to prevent the entry of migrants.
The Interior Ministry also said Spanish nationals were responsible for 29 percent of the total terrorism-related deaths recorded in Spain in 2015.
Most recent cases involve bombs, bombs made of rubber and earthbags as well as plastic explosives stuffed in cardboard tubes, packed with nails. There also have been recent bombings of health care facilities and the Madrid train bombing a decade ago that left 191 people dead.
By strategy, the attacks come days after Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said Madrid is prepared to take legal action against citizens who allegedly promote violence, a clear reference to the incendiary article in a daily Catalan newspaper promoting the idea of independence.
The Spanish government recently is seeking court orders to prevent some sections of some separatist newspapers. Spanish courts have ordered that several newspapers including the main Catalan newspaper Mas Figa and Toruna be temporarily banned from publishing information about their contents.
On Monday, Spain arrested the fourth suspect linked to a package bomb sent last month to a branch of the Bank of Spain.
Several hundred people in northeastern Spain were injured and three people died in September when a package bomb triggered an explosion at a branch of the Bank of Spain in Sant Cugat.
Another parcel bomb was sent to Catalan regional government headquarters in February and narrowly missed president Carles Puigdemont.
Puigdemont announced last week that he would step down and return to Belgium to avoid being arrested.
This article was written by Lisa Lerer from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]