Spain pardon jailed Catalan leaders – Courthouse News Service
In a political bet, Spain’s socialist prime minister pardoned nine leaders of the 2017 illegal independence campaign in Catalonia, creating both the basis for settling or deepening Spain’s territorial and political crisis over the future of the region of Barcelona..
(CN) – Seeking to resolve Spain’s thorniest political dilemma, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Tuesday that his government is pardoning nine jailed leaders convicted of their role in the failed Catalan independence campaign in 2017.
The pardons will allow Catalan leaders to be released from prison in the coming days and reintegrate into Spanish society as highly controversial figures – loved by pro-independence Catalans and seen as traitors by their fiercest critics, who are found mostly on the political right. . .
For weeks, Sanchez had hinted that his take on leniency had changed and that he now saw pardons as an effective balm to heal wounds and put discussions on Catalonia’s future back on track.
“The government is looking for understanding, not confrontation,” Sanchez said in televised remarks Tuesday following a meeting where his cabinet approved the pardons. “Now is the time for politics, to turn the page… We hope to open a new era of dialogue and build new bridges.
He said the pardons were “the best for Catalonia and for Spain”.
In the past, Sanchez has dismissed the idea of pardons, likely because he repelled right-wing challengers. Catalonia’s campaign for independence is hated by the Spanish right, which sees national unity as fundamental.
His about-face was called hypocrite by Pablo Casado, the leader of the Conservative People’s Party. He accused Sanchez of “lying to the Spaniards” during an election debate in 2019.
“Several times I asked Sanchez during the 2019 debate if he was going to pardon the prisoners for sedition and make a pact with them. And he denied it, ”Casado said. “He lied to the Spaniards and will have to answer the ballot box.”
Isabel Diaz Ayuso, conservative mayor of Madrid and rising star of the Popular Party, lashed out at pardons and said Sanchez was humiliating Spain.
“His decision, far from bringing harmony, reinforces separatism and social division,” she wrote on Twitter.
Catalonia is an autonomous community under Spanish law and with Barcelona as its capital, it plays a major role in Spanish life and economy.
The Spanish political landscape has been deeply marked since it was shocked by the events surrounding an illegal unilateral referendum on the independence of Catalonia on October 1, 2017. ballots destroyed. The referendum had been declared illegal by the Spanish courts.
Following the referendum, the Catalan government declared the region of 7.5 million inhabitants independent. Soon after, the Spanish government dissolved the Catalan parliament, reestablished control of Catalonia and arrested thousands of people, including senior political leaders.
Five other leaders, including former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, have fled into exile to avoid being arrested. Tuesday’s pardons do not cover the exiles. Puigdemont fights against extradition to Spain while being a pro-Catalan member of the European Parliament in Brussels. The exiles demand the exemption and fear being arrested if they return to Spain.
Nine Catalan leaders were found guilty in a 2019 trial of sedition and other charges. They were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison.
Among those sentenced, and now pardoned, are Oriol Junqueras, the former deputy head of Catalonia; Raul Romeva, who had been in charge of foreign affairs for the former Catalan government; Jordi Sanchez, who headed an independence group; and Jordi Cuixart, president of Omnium Cultural, a cultural organization based in Barcelona. They have been in prison for about three and a half years, since their arrest after the 2017 referendum.
However, the graces are only partial. Sanchez has not lifted court-imposed bans barring them from running for public office and commutations can be revoked if it turns out they are illegally seeking to break Catalonia with Spain again. .
“These graces don’t depend on recipients giving up their ideas, and neither do we expect them to,” Sanchez said. “But these people have never been put in jail for their ideas, but rather for violating the laws of our democracy.”
Much of the Catalans have long advocated for independence, seeing themselves culturally very different from Castilian Spain and suffering at the hands of the central government in Madrid. Yet even in Catalonia opinions on independence are deeply divided and it is uncertain whether a majority would vote to separate from Spain if a real referendum were held, as demanded by Catalan leaders.
There are likely political considerations behind the pardons, as Sanchez’s left-wing minority government relies on votes from Catalan parties to pass legislation and the budget in the national parliament.
There are also political risks – enormous. Polls suggest around 60% of Spaniards oppose pardons, exposing Sanchez to furious attacks from his right-wing political rivals. These parties have vowed to seek an end to pardons through legal appeals, although this option seems doomed. The King of Spain must also approve pardons, but failure to do so would cause a constitutional crisis.
Spanish governments have the power to grant pardons – as they have done on numerous occasions since Spain became a democracy in the late 1970s following the end of General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. The list of those pardoned includes several corrupt politicians, Military General Alfonso Armada, who was convicted of attempting to orchestrate a military coup in 1981, and members of Basque and Marxist terrorist groups.
It is difficult to predict the effectiveness of switching to ease tensions.
Pere Aragones, the new Catalan president, called the pardons “a first but insufficient step” to resume talks between Catalonia and the Spanish government on the future of the region. Aragones said Spain must grant Catalonia the ability to hold a legally binding referendum on independence.
He also demanded that the Spanish government grant an amnesty to all those prosecuted during the massive protests of 2017. Around 3,000 people would be affected by such an amnesty.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.