The European Court of Justice has decided to restore the parliamentary immunity of the former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont.
Judges ruled on Tuesday that Puigdemont and two other Catalan MEPs, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsati, should not be immediately tried in Spain.
The precautionary measure was taken because there was a “high probability” that Puigdemont would now be arrested, the court heard. His lawyer greeted Tuesday’s decision tweeted as “a tentative victory.”
The three MEPs are wanted in Spain in connection with an independence referendum in Catalonia which took place in September 2017 and was later ruled “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.
Accused of sedition in Spain for his role in promoting the independence of Catalonia, Puigdemont fled to Belgium in October 2017.
Comín, the former Minister of Health, and Ponsatí, the regional Minister of Education, also left the country and won seats in the European Parliament. In addition to charges related to their role in the referendum, Puigdemont and Comín are accused of embezzling public funds.
Last year, other deputies voted to strip the three of their parliamentary immunitymeaning they could be extradited and tried in Spain.
Puigdemont was then arrested in Sardinia in September, but released after just one day, as Italian justice was forced to await the outcome of his appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Communities.
For now at least, the three have had their immunity restored. Puigdemont wrote on Twitter that the decision was “another positive outcome” and vowed to continue fighting for his freedom and the freedom of others.
Spanish judges initially handed prison terms of nine to 13 years to nine other Catalan pro-independence leaders for their role in the independence vote.
But they have all since been pardoned by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and released from prison, having each served between three and a half and four years.
In a statement at the time, the Spanish cabinet said the pardons, which were strongly opposed by the right of the countrywere issued with the aim of reconciling the central government’s relations with the region.
Former prisoners will not be able to hold public office until the end of their original sentence and will be sent back to prison if they break Spanish law again.
Puigdemont announced earlier this month that he would step down as chairman of his Junts per Catalunya party after an upcoming conference in early June.