All set for 'impending' jailed independence leaders' pardons

Right-wing demonstrators in Madrid numbered half as many as 2019 rally against Catalan-Spanish dialogue

From left to right, jailed Catalan leaders Josep Rull, Raül Romeva, Quim Forn, Jordi Cuixart, Oriol Junqueras, and Jordi Turull (by Estefania Escolà)
From left to right, jailed Catalan leaders Josep Rull, Raül Romeva, Quim Forn, Jordi Cuixart, Oriol Junqueras, and Jordi Turull (by Estefania Escolà) / ACN

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

June 14, 2021 05:15 PM

After almost four years behind bars for their role in the 2017 independence push, the nine leading Catalan politicians and activists serving decade-long sentences are expected to be pardoned by the Spanish government in the coming days or weeks.  

Spain's cabinet has to officially approve the measure at one of their weekly meetings, held every Tuesday – making this Tuesday, June 15, the first possible date the pardons could be granted.  

The topic is not on the ministers' agenda for Tuesday, but the regional policy minister, Miquel Iceta, said on Monday that Spanish president Pedro Sánchez has the right to bring up the issue anyway.  

For Iceta, the pardons for the pro-independence leaders are "impending" and the cabinet's decision on the matter will be known for sure by August 1.  

Potential pardons will not affect Puigdemont 

Yet, he pointed out that the Spanish government's action would only affect those convicted, not those in exile since 2017, such as the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.  

Indeed, the fact that the pardons would only affect nine people is the reason why the independence camp is campaigning for an amnesty for everyone involved in judicial procedures for cases related to the political conflict in the past decade – they estimate that this includes "3,000 victims of Spain's reprisal." 

Spanish government paving way for pardons 

The Socialist-led government has been paving the way for a decision in favor of the pardons. 

Sánchez has been saying in the past few weeks that he will make the decision in accordance with the constitutional values ​​of "concord, dialogue, understanding," while rejecting "revenge." 

His government has repeatedly said they want to "move on" and open a period of dialogue between Catalonia and Spain – this willingness for talks matches with the strategy of the newly elected Catalan government: sit at a negotiating table with Madrid, and bring up the issues of amnesty and self-determination.  

Sánchez and the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, will meet at some point in June after an ice-breaker 40-minute "productive" call on June 4. 

Right-wing opposition fails to find widespread support 

The executive in Madrid was facing internal opposition, from the Socialist party, but this has waned somewhat after one of the jailed leaders, Oriol Junqueras, suggested in an op-ed that he would accept the pardons, while maintaining that an amnesty remains the priority. The politician also said that dialogue with Spain is the only "viable" way out of the conflict, cooling to the idea of a repetition of the unauthorized 2017 independence referendum.  

Yet, the Spanish right-wing parties are still fiercely opposed to the pardons – the leaders of the People's Party, Ciudadanos and Vox attended a rally in Madrid's Plaza de Colón on Sunday. But the protest was not successful enough to make Sánchez reconsider his plans to release the imprisoned officials.  

Around 25,000 people attended the demonstration – roughly half the number of protesters at a similar event in the same place in February 2019, where the right got together to reject the first efforts of dialogue between the Catalan and the Socialist-led Spanish administrations.  

King Felipe entangled in pardons' discussion 

The People's Party's Madrid regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, was one of the attendees at the rally on Sunday – and one of her remarks prompted criticism even within her party.  

She asked whether the king would sanction the pardons – his constitutional role obliges him to officially sign this kind of governmental decision. "Will [the Spanish government] make him an accomplice in this?" she said.  

This has sparked almost unanimous rejection from Spanish unionists, since the monarch's role does not allow him to intervene in political affairs. Even the People's Party president, Pablo Casado, clarified on Monday that Sánchez "exclusively" would have the responsibility in the case of a pardon. His party, like the Socialists, is staunchly in favor of the monarchy.  

'Reversible' pardons, appeals and European court involvement 

A few weeks ago, the Spanish Supreme Court sided against the release of the leaders in its mandatory but non-binding report, after the public prosecutor also opposed the pardons and the solicitor general – representing the Spanish government – avoided taking a stance.  

It is now all set for Sánchez's government to make their decision, although this might not be the end of the story for the jailed leaders.  

Several right-wing parties have already pledged to appeal against the potential measure. 

Moreover, El País daily reported that the pardons will be "partial" and "reversible," meaning that Catalan leaders will have the years of their prison sentences reduced to the point they no longer need to spend time in jail, but the measure could be lifted if they were again found guilty of a criminal offense. 

The jailed leaders will also take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights – two of them have already done so – regardless of whether they are pardoned or not.