DEPOSED Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and three members of his sacked Cabinet, who were yesterday released without bail by a Belgian judge, have condemned the legal proceedings taken against them by Spain’s central government.

He and four former ministers had turned themselves in to police on Sunday to answer a European arrest warrant issued by prosecutors in Spain, which accuses them of a range of offences including sedition and rebellion in connection with the independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1.

However, the Belgian judge said it was not necessary to remand them in custody. The only restriction on their liberty is that they cannot leave Belgium without the judge’s consent.

Writing on social media, Puigdemont said: “Released and without bail. Our thoughts are with our colleagues unjustly imprisoned by a state whose behaviour is far from democratic.”

Former agriculture minister Meritxell Serret, wrote: “In Belgium they release us without bail, while in Spain we would be in prison.”

Deposed education minister and University of St Andrews academic Clara Ponsati commented on accusations against eight Catalan teachers that they were pro-Catalan and anti-Spanish.

She said: “Freedom of expression is also education. We do not tolerate the judicial harassment of teachers. We are not afraid.”

Toni Comin, the sacked Catalan health minister, added: “Released without bail. We demand that our unjustly imprisoned colleagues in Spain receive the same guarantees as us. Our thoughts are with them.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the Belgian prosecutor said: “The next step in the proceedings is the appearance of the five defendants before the Chambre du Conseil within the next 15 days.” A hearing date of November 17 was later confirmed.

Belgian human rights lawyer Alexis Deswaef said the judge had three possibilities open to him.

“He could have placed him [Puigdemont] in detention, even if he contested the warrant of arrest, or he could release him, refusing the warrant of the Spanish authorities, or he could accept the warrant and liberate him on conditions – and that is what happened,” he told BBC Scotland.

This means Puigdemont will be free to contest the Catalan election on December 21, albeit from a distance.

“He can continue with no interdiction of political activities, so he can prepare himself and his party for the election,” said Deswaef, “and he can continue to use his freedom of expression, and that’s an important point in his defence. He will insist on using his right of freedom of expression, and he’s facing in Madrid a trial which will not be fair regarding the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Now Belgian justice has to decide what to do with this warrant. There will be a hearing within 15 days where the Chambre du Conseil will analyse the grounds, the motivation of the Spanish arrest warrant.”

Deswaef said Puigdemont was facing 30 years in prison should he be found guilty of the charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, which was “disproportionate” and a sentence usually reserved for terrorism or other severe criminal charges – not political activity.

He added that in the 21st century in the European Union, the two Jordis – Omnium Cultural head Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly – had been in custody for 19 days because of their views.

“Other ministers of Puigdemont’s government who went back to Spain have been in detention for four days now … so it is very surprising that this can happen today in the EU just for using human rights and fundamental freedom,” he said, adding there was nothing to stop Puigdemont running his election campaign from Brussels.

The Catalan election – known by the hashtag #D21 – was called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and is shaping up to become a de facto plebiscite on independence.

Puigdemont’s Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) has reselected him to fight the poll.

Spokesperson Marta Pascal said: “Ours is a bid for those who are deprived of freedom, therefore the ministers ousted by Article 155 are to be included in our elections list. We want President Puigdemont to lead this landslide that we will have on December 21 in the ballots. May he be, may he be.”