The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has said the government has issued pardons for the nine Catalan separatists who are serving lengthy prison terms for organizing an attempt to create an independent Catalonia republic four years ago.
The nine who include the former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, five fellow Cabinet members, the former regional parliament’s speaker and two pro-independence activists are expected to leave prison today, Wednesday 23rd June.
The Prime Minister hopes that the pardons will allow for much-needed reconciliation in finding a solution to the stand-off between the central and regional governments.
The pardons, which have been published in Spain’s official BOE Official Gazette cancelled the remainder of the prison terms ranging from nine to 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds.
The pardons do not cover their banning of public office, which remains in force until the end of their sentences and they could go back to prison if they break the law again.
The decision of the government has been controversial with several polls showing a clear majority against the move.
Last week tens of thousands demonstrated in Madrid against the proposed measure.
However Sánchez, speaking this week at the Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona to an audience of public figures including the city’s mayor, Ada Colau argued for the pardons.
Presenting the governments “Reencuentro: un proyecto de futuro para toda España’ ( Re-meeting – a project for the future of all of Spain) he argued that freeing the separatists will be a fresh start for relations between central and regional authorities and said that the government wanted to ” open the door of reconciliation.”
Spain´s Partido Popular Conservative opposition leader, Pablo Casado, called for the prime minister’s resignation and accused Sanchez of lying because the Socialist leader had vowed not to make concessions to separatists during the general election of 2019 which had brought him to power.
The pardons do not extend to Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan President, who was removed from office following the then Partido Popular government of Mariano Rajoy´s decision to trigger Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution suspending the regions parliament and autonomy.
The referendum resulted in a 92% yes for the question “Do you want Catalunia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”but with only a 43% turnout and widespread boycotting by unionists.
Puigdemont and the other Catalan leaders subsequently fled Spain to Brussels following the clampdown and stood successfully for the European Parliament.
The European Parliament passed a motion this week for the Spanish government to “consider pardoning or otherwise release from prison the Catalan politicians convicted for their role in the organisation of the October 2017 unconstitutional referendum” as well as “consider dropping extradition proceedings against Catalan politicians living abroad who are wanted on the same grounds.”