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Exiled Catalan pro-independence lawmaker demands 'justice'

© AFP/File | Calling on Madrid to be open to negotiations, Gabriel said she would like to be "a free citizen who could return home now" but added she might have to claim asylum

GENEVA (AFP) - 

Anna Gabriel, a pro-independence former member of the Catalan parliament, says she has not sought to flee justice in choosing Swiss exile, but on the contrary wants to see justice done.

"I have not abandoned the Spanish state by choice. I have not fled justice, I want justice ... even if it comes at a personal cost," Gabriel told AFP in an interview in Geneva Thursday.

"If I could choose, I would choose to be a free citizen who could return home now," added the 42-year-old ex-spokeswoman for the far-left CUP party, who is one of several secessionist politicians wanted by Madrid on charges of sedition and rebellion.

Following last October's referendum which Madrid judged illegal, Spain jailed several of her fellow pro-independence politicians while others, notably former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont, have chosen exile, Belgium in his case.

Gabriel said exile was not an "easy option but ... imprisoned persons deserve to have their voices heard."

On Wednesday, Spanish justice issued a warrant for her arrest valid only in Spain.

"I cannot freely return home -- my personal situation worries me but also that of Catalonia and of the whole of the Spanish state," said Gabriel.

"And if the Spanish state were to call for (my) extradition, we shall study a possible request for political asylum" in Switzerland, she added.

Earlier in the week she had told Swiss media that she found excessive the fallout from the Catalan referendum, in terms of police investigations and charges brought against some 100 secessionists.

Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people, has been under direct rule from Madrid after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved the Catalan parliament following the abortive poll which saw the pro-independence camp win, albeit on a minority turnout.

Gabriel has said she believes she would not receive a fair trial in Spain and had chosen Switzerland for its grassroots democracy culture of putting many issues to a local referendum.

Asked whether Switzerland might grant any request by Madrid to hand her over, Swiss federal justice spokesman Folco Galli told AFP that current legal cooperation accords between the two countries did not provide for extradition "for political crimes."

Gabriel said she had not had contact with the Swiss authorities but added she believed the issue of Catalan independence would ultimately be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.

Earlier this month, the Catalan parliament said it would be calling on that court in its bid to ensure Puigdemont can be invested once again as regional president.

Asked how she saw the impasse being broken, Gabriel said that "our agenda depends on the reaction of the Spanish state. Let's hope our agenda is that of negotiations with the Spanish state. We would hope so."

© 2018 AFP