Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Tuesday that the Cabinet had approved pardons for the nine jailed leaders of the failed 2017 secession attempt in Catalonia. Speaking at a press conference at lunchtime, the Socialist Party (PSOE) chief said that “the decision comes from the need to reestablish coexistence.”
Sánchez explained that the pardons for the politicians and civic leaders – including the leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party, Oriol Junqueras – were partial and would commute the prison sentences. However, the nine figures will still be barred from public office, and the pardons will stand provided the recipients do not commit another serious offense.
“I’m speaking to the Spanish public to report that the Cabinet has today agreed to grant the pardons to the prisoners of the procés [the process of achieving independence from Spain] who are still in prison,” he said. “As you know, the judicial route concluded with a final sentence from the Supreme Court, which the government is not placing in question. Then, a series of people and civil institutions formulated a petition for a pardon that the government had to consider.”
The prime minister, who leads a minority coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos, added that the pardon did not require the convicts to “change their ideas.” “In fact,” he continued, “they were not punished for their ideas, but rather for their acts against democratic legality. We live together and together we must deal with the same concerns and the same problems.” He added: “We will find difficulties along the way, but I believe that this is well worth trying.”
Sánchez also said that his government wanted to “open a new era of dialogue and reuniting, closing off the confrontation once and for all. Spanish democracy is today showing its greatness. Now is the time for politics, of turning the page, and of returning to the route that never should have been abandoned. Now is the moment to put all of our efforts into improving the lives of our people.”
The nine individuals found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison, and some have now been behind bars for three-and-a-half years, including their time in pre-trial custody. ERC leader Junqueras was deputy premier when Catalonia held an outlawed independence referendum on October 1, 2017. That was followed by an independence declaration passed by separatist parties inside the regional parliament. The Catalan premier at the time, Carles Puigdemont, fled Spain to avoid being tried for these events and has since been living in Belgium.
Three other former Catalan government officials who were found guilty of disobedience and barred from holding public office for one year and eight months, but not sent to jail, have already served out their sentences and are therefore not eligible for the pardons. They are Carles Mundó, Meritxell Borrás and Santi Vila, who are free to run for office again.
Granting the pardons is proving to be the most complicated and risky decision made to date by Sánchez, who has two years left in office. The executive is aware that the decision is taking a toll and dividing its own Socialist voters. Despite adverse opinion polls, Sánchez’s team is hoping that there will be enough good news out of Catalonia in the coming months to turn the tide of opinion.
The independence movement, meanwhile, has been suggesting that the Spanish government’s clemency is a result of international pressure.
The pardons have also received negative reports from prosecutors and from the Supreme Court, underscoring that the decision is chiefly political. As such, the government is preparing lengthy documents – around 30 pages per beneficiary – to explain its reasons for releasing the prisoners.
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Monday approved a resolution that called on Spain to “consider the pardon or the freeing of the Catalan politicians sentenced for their role in the organization of the unconstitutional referendum” of October 2017. The resolution passed with 70 votes in favor, 28 against and 12 abstentions. What’s more, the legislators from the 47 countries from the pan-European organization, which is not a EU institution, also called for “the possibility of bringing an end to the extradition processes” currently in place against Puigdemont and the rest of the Catalan politicians who fled Spain in the wake of the events of 2017.
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English version by Simon Hunter.