October 18. 2021. 5:46

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Spain pardons nine Catalan leaders and hails ‘new era of dialogue’

Jailed Catalan separatists leaders (from left) Jordi Sànchez, Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Cuixart, Josep Rull and Raul Romeva in Lledoners jail in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada, in 2018. Photograph: Omnium Cultural/AFP/ Getty Images


The Spanish government has issued pardons for nine Catalan politicians and grass roots leaders convicted of sedition, while calling for an end to years of division and conflict caused by the independence issue.

Prime minister Pedro Sánchez met with his cabinet for more than four hours to discuss the pardons for the nine leaders, who were jailed for their role in a failed attempt to secure Catalan independence in 2017.

“We want to open a new era of dialogue,” Mr Sánchez said in a brief statement after his cabinet approved the measure.

The partial pardons lift the sedition conviction against the prisoners, as well as a conviction for misuse of public funds against four of them. However, they remain barred from public office and the pardons are reversible if they reoffend in the next few years.

Oriol Junqueras, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Dolors Bassa, Joaquim Forn and Josep Rull were all members of the Catalan regional government in 2017. Carme Forcadell was speaker of the Catalan parliament, and Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart were leaders of grass roots organisations.

The longest sentence, of 13 years, was for former Catalan vice-president Junqueras. His pardon means he will have served nine years less than his initial sentence.

According to protocol, once King Felipe has signed the pardons and the supreme court, which convicted the nine in 2019, has approved the procedure, the prisoners can be released.

Criticism

In recent weeks, Mr Sánchez has underlined the need for engagement and negotiation in Catalonia in order to find a lasting solution to the territorial crisis. He repeated this conciliatory line as he announced the pardons.

“Spain without Catalonia would not be Spain, just as Catalonia without the rest of Spain would not be Catalonia,” he said. “That certainty is what guides us.”

However, the right-wing opposition intensified its criticism of the move. They say Mr Sánchez is appeasing the independence movement because his coalition government needs the support of Catalan nationalists in parliament.

The Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos and the far-right Vox all said they would lodge appeals against the pardons. Vox went further, promising to present a lawsuit against the cabinet for alleged abuse of power.

The party’s spokeswoman, Macarena Olona, said the clemency measures amounted to “a veritable coup d’état in Spain from within its own institutions”.

The Catalan government has welcomed the pardons although it has said that an amnesty would have been preferable. The independence movement continues to call for a binding referendum on secession for Catalonia.

“Pardons do not stop Spain’s repression of the pro-referendum movement,” said Òmnium, the organisation led by one of the prisoners, Jordi Cuixart, which pointed to hundreds of other Catalan politicians who still face legal action for their role in the events of 2017.