AN ACCLAIMED university has leapt to the defence of a professor facing a “political” extradition to Spain over her role in Catalonia’s controversial independence referendum, amid mounting calls for the move to be reconsidered.

Professor Clara Ponsati, an academic at the University of St Andrews, took a sabbatical from her role last year to serve as a minister in the now-deposed Catalan government.

She is expected to attend a police station in Edinburgh later this week following a European arrest warrant being issued.

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But in a statement, the university said it was “committed to protect and support her”, and raised concerns she was being targeted for standing up for her political beliefs.

Professor Sally Mapstone, principal and vice-chancellor of the university, said: “That is anathema to us, and we will continue to offer her every appropriate support, while respecting due legal process.”

It comes as the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford wrote to the Spanish Ambassador in London requesting a meeting as a “matter of urgency”.

He expressed his “deep frustration and anger”, adding: “It is deeply disappointing that as part of this pursuit of pro-Catalan independence politicians a former minister, who is a respected academic in Scotland, now faces charges of rebellion – a charge which is not recognised in Scots law.”

Ms Ponsati’s lawyer Aamer Anwar said he will oppose her extradition to Spain under the arrest warrant as it represents "a systematic attempt to criminalise the desire for independence".

Arrest warrants were issued by a Spanish judge on Friday for Ms Ponsati and other fugitive politicians including Catalonia's ex-leader Carles Puigdemont, now detained by German police.

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Ms Ponsati returned to Scotland earlier this month, having been in Belgium since fleeing Spain with Mr Puigdemont and three other former cabinet members following an unsuccessful bid to declare independence from Spain in October.

Mr Anwar said following discussions with Police Scotland and the Crown Office, arrangements would be made for Ms Ponsati to voluntarily attend a police station this week before appearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

He said bail would be applied for and a full hearing on the extradition request is expected to follow several weeks later.

He added: "I am instructed to oppose the extradition on the basis that this is a political prosecution of Clara and a systematic attempt to criminalise the desire for independence by more than two million voters in Catalonia.

"She faces charges of rebellion with violence against the unity of the Spanish nation, but along with other politicians she promoted a peaceful referendum to express a democratic desire for independence from Spain. This offence is punishable by up to 30 years imprisonment.

"We will submit there are there are no guarantees of due process in Spain, of a right to a fair trial in a country where most members of the Catalan Government are already in prison or in exile."

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon previously said the Scottish Government "supports the right of the people of Catalonia to determine their own future and that we strongly oppose the Spanish Government's decision to seek the arrest and imprisonment of independence supporting politicians".

She said Scottish ministers have no role in determining European arrest warrants and no power to intervene in the independent judicial process.

Lawyer Karen Todner, who successfully challenged the extradition of alleged hackers Gary McKinnon and Lauri Love to the US, insisted Ms Ponsati had strong grounds to challenge Spain.

She said: “If this can be shown to be a politically motivated request for an extradition warrant, then she could defeat the application for extradition.”