Spanish government to consider pardon requests for jailed Catalan separatists

Right-wing parties warn they will legally challenge any move to grant clemency to the imprisoned leaders of the 2017 failed secession attempt

Spain's Deputy PM Carmen Calvo in Congress on Wednesday.
Spain's Deputy PM Carmen Calvo in Congress on Wednesday.Emilio Naranjo (EFE)

The Spanish government will next week begin considering requests for clemency filed on behalf of Catalan separatist politicians and activists serving prison terms for their role in the the unilateral breakaway attempt of October 2017.

According to sources in the Justice Ministry, the first request was filed in January by a Barcelona lawyer named Francesc Jufresa, who petitioned the government to pardon nine individuals convicted to between nine and 13 years in prison after being found guilty of sedition by Spain’s Supreme Court.

News of the upcoming review was unexpectedly delivered on Wednesday by Spanish Justice Minister Juan Carlos Campo in response to a question asked by Laura Borrás, the spokesperson in the Congress of Deputies for the separatist party Together for Catalonia (JuntsxCat), which holds eight seats in Spain’s lower house of parliament.

Together for Catalonia deputy Laura Borràs with Catalan premier Quim Torra.
Together for Catalonia deputy Laura Borràs with Catalan premier Quim Torra. Marta Pérez (EFE)

The announcement, which Borrás described as “a surprise bombshell,” was received coolly by Catalonia’s independence movement, whose leaders noted that government pardons are considered on an individual basis and that in any case, these would not lead to any meaningful progress on the political front.

“Our position on the [Spanish] state’s siren calls is that they are not the solution to the political conflict,” said Albert Batet, the leader of JuntsxCat in the Catalan parliament.

The news comes as the Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision confirming whether Catalonia’s regional premier Quim Torra will be removed from office for violating electoral legislation in March 2019.

The Justice Ministry warned that the review process for government pardons “usually takes more than six months.” The same sources explained that the first request was being considered now, nine months after being filed, due to “delays caused by a backlog of requests during the time that Spain had an acting government.” Spain was under a caretaker administration for 254 days following the inconclusive election of April 2019, which led to a repeat election in November.

Vox will take legal action “if the government decides to pardon the separatist prisoners convicted for the coup of October 1, 2017”

Parties on the right of the political spectrum reacted angrily to the justice minister’s unexpected disclosure. Both the Popular Party (PP) and the far-right Vox have warned that if the government pardons the imprisoned leaders of the secessionist movement, they will mount legal challenges.

Both parties said the move is linked to the fact that the minority government of Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), is currently in talks to secure congressional support for a new budget, and may seek backing from Catalan separatist lawmakers in Spanish Congress.

Sources within the PP leadership said that the pardons are “part of the price that Sánchez is paying for his investiture and for the budget,” alluding to the fact that Sánchez was voted back into the prime minister’s office following the November election partly thanks to the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), a separatist group that agreed to abstain at the second round in exchange for opening talks between the central and Catalan governments regarding the situation in Catalonia.

These sources added that the Justice Ministry’s push to review the crimes of sedition and rebellion in Spain’s criminal code will also “work in favor of those convicted for 1-O [October 1, 2017, the date of the unauthorized independence referendum].”

Meanwhile, Vox’s secretary general in Congress, Macarena Olona, warned that her party will take all necessary legal action “if the government decides to pardon the separatist prisoners convicted for the coup of October 1, 2017.”

A long process

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo noted that the Justice Ministry is constitutionally obligated to process any official requests for pardons. Such requests must first undergo review by the court that handed down the conviction, in this case the Supreme Court, but its views are not binding. Pardons are granted by the king at the suggestion of the justice minister following a debate by the Cabinet.

Other clemency requests have been filed this year on behalf of two convicted leaders of the breakaway attempt. In late August, the ministry received a petition from three former speakers of Catalan parliament asking the central government to pardon Carme Forcadell, who was the Catalan parliament speaker at the time of the failed attempt to break away from Spain. Forcadell was sentenced to eleven-and-a-half years for sedition. And in June, the Catalan branch of labor union UGT requested clemency for Dolors Bassa, who was the Catalan chief of labor and social affairs in 2017, and is now serving a twelve-year prison term.

The other separatist leaders convicted for their involvement in the breakaway attempt are: Oriol Junqueras, the leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party; ex-Catalan government ministers Josep Rull, Joaquim Forn, Raül Romeva and Jordi Turull; and Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of the civil society groups Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural.

English version by Susana Urra.

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