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23rd Oct 2021

Sánchez risks 'betrayal' call with pardon for jailed Catalans

  • The Spanish government has declared publicly that such pardons are an 'essential first step' in resolving the political conflict over Catalonia (Photo: Jordi Boixareu/ZUMA Wire/dpa)

The Spanish government on Tuesday (22 June) will approve pardons to the nine jailed Catalan leaders behind the failed independence attempt in 2017 - a move that has divided Spaniards between those who see it as a key step to ease tensions between Madrid and Barceolona, and those who consider it a "betrayal".

"We are going to rebuild social harmony from respect and regard. We cannot start from scratch, but we can start again," said prime minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday during an event in Barcelona.

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"I am convinced that taking nine people from prison, who represent thousands of Catalans, is a resounding message of the will for social harmony in Spanish democracy," Sánchez said.

"We are going to do it for the sake of agreement, we are going to do it wholeheartedly," he added.

In 2019, nine Catalan leaders were sentenced by the country's top court to nine to 13 years in prison for sedition and the misuse of public funds, over their role in the 2017 failed referendum.

The group includes the former leader of Catalonia and 'Spitzenkandidat' of the European Free Alliance (EFA), Oriol Junqueras - who recently said that the Spanish state is facing strong external pressure and "is now trying to protect itself against the abusive measures it took earlier".

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights is currently considering appeals by Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Jordi Cuixart, three of the nine leaders convicted.

Additionally, a report of the Council of Europe, an 47-state strong independent watchdog, stated that the Catalan leaders have been prosecuted for sedition and other actions, such as "statements made in the exercise of their political mandates."

'His days are numbered'

Meanwhile, Spain's Supreme Court, in addition to the leaders of the far-right Vox, the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), have all positioned themselves against any "total or partial" pardon to the Catalan leaders.

The court has argued that "there is not the slightest evidence, or faintest hint, of contrition" from the sentenced leaders - a key requirement for granting a pardon, which can only be issued by the government.

Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso from the PP said that Sánchez's decision was risky and would end his political career.

"This betrayal cannot be forgiven, his days are numbered. People can put up with other things, but this is unbearable," she said on Monday.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of people joined protests in Madrid against the Socialist-led Spanish government's plans to pardon the Catalan politicians - including the leaders from main opposition parties.

Meanwhile, Sánchez coalition partner, left-wing Unidas Podemos (United We Can), has welcomed the move as a "brave decision".

The possibility of pardons has been discussed by the government for months, but it picked up speed last month - when Catalonia's newly-elected leader, leftwing Pere Aragonès, took office, pledging to work toward full "amnesty" for the jailed leaders and the self-determination right of Catalonia.

Sánchez has declared for weeks that they are an "​essential first step" in resolving the political conflict over Catalonia.

But Aragonès said on Monday that pardons are only an "incomplete solution".

"The underlying political conflict [in Catalonia] can only be resolved through democracy," he said.

An amnesty, unlike a pardon, would also affect the Catalan leaders who fled to Belgium and Scotland after heading the 2017 failed secession attempt - namely former regional premier Carles Puigdemont, and two members of his government, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, who are all elected MEPs.

Puigdemont, who has provisionally regained some legal immunity as an MEP, has urged Sánchez to explain his plans to the Catalan deputies in the regional parliament.

The pardons will be only partial, putting an end to their prison terms but preserving the ban on holding public office, according to the Spanish newspaper El País.

They can be revoked if the beneficiaries commit a crime punishable with three to five years in prison.

In the meantime, the controversy has reached Spain's King Felipe VI, who will have to give the green light to the pardons.

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