Puigdemont due to explain his plans in Brussels
Catalan President has retained an expert human rights lawyer
‘Where is Carles Puigdemont?’ This was the most difficult question that journalists had to face on Monday, the first working day after the Declaration of Independence and after Mariano Rajoy’s measures against Catalonia's self-government. At this stage it is clear that the Catalan president is in Brussels, but it is not yet known why he and five other members of the Catalan government have traveled to the European capital. He is due to explain his trip and his plans on Tuesday, in a statement at 12.30pm at the Press Club Brussels.
Rumor has it that Puigdemont might be seeking asylum in Belgium. Indeed, on Monday he contacted Paul Bekaert, a lawyer who is an expert in human rights and asylum applications. “He consulted me and asked me to defend his interests in Belgium in the future,” Bekaert said on Flemish TV. The lawyer has more than 30 years experience with extradition and asylum cases. On Monday, the Spanish attorney general filed charges against Puigdemont and 19 other Catalan officials for rebellion and sedition. Both crimes carry a sentence of 45 years in prison altogether for each of the accused officials.
Catalan VP in Barcelona
Puigdemont’s vice president, Oriol Junqueras, who is in Barcelona, did not disclose on Monday evening what the government members in Brussels aim to do. “What the government is doing is working in all areas. Brussels is an area in which a lot of work can be done and part of the government is doing this work,” he said. Junqueras also claimed that some other ministers are still working in Catalonia. Aleix Sarri, assistant for pro-independence MEP Ramon Tremosa, said in a tweet on Monday that Puigdemont and the government were “prepared to go on internationalizing” the Spanish measures against Catalonia's self-government.
"Brussels is an area in which a lot of work can be done and part of the government is doing this work"
Oriol Junqueras · Catalan vice president
The asylum process in Belgium
The Spanish government has already said that it would be in touch with the Belgian executive in the event Puigdemont seeks asylum in the country. However, it is not up to Belgian politicians to decide whether to accept or reject this hypothetical application. As professor of European law of asylum and migration Philippe De Bruycker told ACN, it is “an independent authority” which will make a decision about the application. “This authority would not make any political decision, but rather a legal one,” he said.
The Belgian executive would not be able to change the decision. According to De Bruycker, the system is designed in a way that if a person “has good reason to apply for asylum, this is given regardless of any considerations by the government.” The commissioner who makes the finding on the topic would have five days to decide on the issue and might reject the application “if the arguments of the applicant cannot prove with good basis the risk of persecution or the real risk of serious damage.” De Bruycker said that for him, it does not seem that Puigdemont is being persecuted.