The Spanish government approved this Tuesday the granting of pardons to nine Catalan independence leaders to serve prison terms for their involvement in the attempt of self-determination in that Spanish region in 2017, announced the Spanish prime minister.
“The Council of Ministers has reached an agreement to grant pardons to the nine” independenceists who are in prison, Pedro Sánchez said in an institutional statement after the meeting in which the decision was taken.
Pedro Sánchez defended that, with forgiveness, democracy “shows its greatness today” and appealed to “those who question it to also demonstrate their greatness.” [grandeza]”, an allusion to the Catalan independence movement, which offered a “return to the path that should not have been abandoned”.
For the Spanish Prime Minister, the decision was taken “because it is the best for Catalonia, the best for Spain and the most in keeping with the spirit of harmony and coexistence of the Constitution”.
Pardons are partial: all or part of the imprisonment sentence that is missing will be pardoned, but the disqualification from holding public office remains.
The measure will also be reversible and may be overturned if the pardoned person commits a crime again during a certain period of time.
The nine imprisoned Catalan politicians could be released from prison in the next few hours, according to sources in the Spanish Supreme Court, who indicated that the institution will not wait for the decision to be published on Wednesday in the Official State Bulletin before proceeding with the process.
The government’s decision is far from having a consensus in Spanish society, with criticism from the opposition, which sees the pardons as a “blow to democracy” while pro-independence supporters consider them “insufficient” and call for an amnesty.
Pedro Sánchez is convinced that the controversial measure will open “a new phase of dialogue” that “will end division and confrontation once and for all”.
Almost four years after the failed attempt at independence, the Catalan question continues to condition Spanish political life and deeply divide Catalan society.
The left-wing Spanish minority government believes that the granting of pardons will facilitate dialogue with the independence executive in the region of Catalonia, which has the support of about half of the population of this autonomous community.
Catalan separatist parties continue to defend the independence of the region and the central government seems only willing to give more autonomy, through a change in the statute that regulates Madrid’s relationship with each of the regions.
In early 2020, the two parties started to discuss the problem through a “negotiating table” whose meetings have been interrupted until now due to the crisis provoked by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The current left-wing minority executive, a coalition between the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos (far left), has managed to remain in power, namely with the help of Catalan independence parties, as well as separatist or nationalist formations of the Basque Country.
The granting of pardons is seen, mainly by the right, as the currency of exchange that guarantees the continuation of this support network.
The decision of the Council of Ministers does not definitively end this matter, as several parties on the Spanish right and other entities have already advanced that they will file appeals with the Supreme Court.
Catalan politicians who organized an illegal referendum on self-determination in the region in 2017 were tried in 2019 and nine of them are serving prison sentences ranging from nine to a maximum of 13 years in prison for crimes of sedition (collective contestation against authority ) and embezzlement of public funds.
Among those who will benefit from the pardons is the former vice president of the Catalan regional government, Oriol Junqueras.
The decision taken today does not solve the problem of a group of independence activists who have fled abroad and have not yet been tried.
This group includes the former president of the Catalan executive Carles Puigdemont, who is in Belgium, and was elected a Member of the European Parliament.
The Council of Europe, the “old continent’s” leading human rights body, backed the pardons in a resolution passed by its assembly late Monday.
But the non-binding recommendation also criticized Spain for having limited the freedom of expression of Catalan politicians.
Spain’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying the separatists were convicted by independent courts for violating laws and not just for expressing their desire for independence.