Government and Socialists sign anti-terrorism pact to tackle jihadists

Opposition leader Sánchez says PSOE may appeal life-sentence clause linked to deal

Rajoy (l) and Sánchez shake hands after signing the anti-terrorism pact at La Moncloa on Monday.
Rajoy (l) and Sánchez shake hands after signing the anti-terrorism pact at La Moncloa on Monday.Alejandro Ruesga

The Popular Party (PP) government and the opposition Socialists on Monday signed a far-reaching anti-terrorism pact, the fourth such agreement to be signed between Spain’s two main parties in the last 30 years.

The difference is this is the first anti-terrorism deal not to specifically address Basque terrorist group ETA, but instead seeks to tackle jihadist extremism and support activities for radical groups in Syria and Iraq.

But one day after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez put their signatures to the pact, Socialists said they were prepared to appeal a measure linked to the proposed law that calls for life sentences for anyone convicted of deadly terrorist attacks or other violent crimes.

Sánchez assured Socialist officials that he would do all he could to get the life-sentence statute removed

Sánchez convinced top party officials to accept the clause as it currently stands despite concerns raised by regional leaders and legal experts about the notion of life imprisonment.

The PP's drive to impose life sentences is part of a broader penal code reform.

Sánchez assured Socialist officials that he would do all he could to get the statute removed, including filing an appeal with the Constitutional Court.

“Tomorrow I will call the prime minister to see if we can tie up the loose ends so we can push through this anti-terrorism law,” Sánchez said from Brussels on Tuesday.

Negotiations between the two parties began just days after the terrorist attacks by Islamic radicals last month in Paris, in which 17 people were killed.

“Today we have sent a clear message to the radicals: Spanish society is united in defense of its freedom,” said Rajoy at the prime minister’s Moncloa residence on Monday.

“For the past 27 years, when it comes to fighting terrorism, the Socialists have always given unity priority over partisan interests,” Sánchez said.

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The pact comes under the changes to the penal code that the PP pushed through Congress last month, which set guidelines for handing down life sentences. No opposition group voted in favor of the changes. The bill has now been sent to the Senate and will presumably get final approval prior to the summer, before going into effect in 2016.

Under the new law, anyone convicted of carrying out a terrorist attack or any other violent crime can receive a life sentence with a review for release after serving 35 years.

Antonio Hernando and José Enrique Serrano, the two Socialist leaders who hammered out the anti-terrorism pact with the PP, felt that the opposition could not decline to draft a bipartisan law aimed at dealing with the growing jihadist threat.

But Sánchez assured Socialists that a passage in the bill would allow the party to change the life-penalty terms if they won a majority in Congress at general elections later this year.

The new anti-terrorism pact also calls for 20-year sentences for anyone convicted of supplying weapons to terrorists or 10 years for funding terror networks.

Spaniards who join foreign radical groups can also receive up to five years in prison.


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