Amnesty bill one step closer to approval after Justice Committee vote

Governing Socialists agree with Catalan parties to change law to shield former president Carles Puigdemont

Spanish Congress Justice Committee debates amnesty bill
Spanish Congress Justice Committee debates amnesty bill / Miquel Vera
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

March 7, 2024 01:28 PM

March 7, 2024 07:37 PM

The amnesty bill, agreed between the governing Socialists and the Catalan pro-independence parties Junts and Esquerra, is closer to approval after passing the vote in the Justice Committee with 20 votes in favor and 14 against.

The draft law will be debated in the Spanish Congress next Thursday, March 14, where it is expected to pass and go to the Senate before returning to the Congress for final approval.

In January, Catalan pro-independence party Junts rejected the amnesty bill in Congress, arguing that it did not sufficiently protect former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who is currently under investigation for terrorism.

The bill was sent back to the Justice Committee, where further amendments have been introduced. The most significant change in the text is that terrorism crimes will be adapted to the European standard and not to Spanish law, thus giving more protection to Puigdemont and others accused of terrorism.

The current version of the bill states that only "intentional serious violations of human rights, in particular those regulated by Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and International Humanitarian Law" will be excluded from the amnesty. 

With these changes, Junts estimates that the law will benefit between 150 and 200 people who were at risk of being excluded, including Puigdemont.

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont / Parlament Europeu

On the other hand, ERC insists that the new changes to the law are "purely aesthetic" and that terrorism crimes "remain absolutely the same". 

"The law is robust and covers everyone. The wording changes, but not the result," says ERC secretary general Marta Rovira, who is also under investigation for terrorism and may benefit from the law.

However, Catalan president Pere Aragonès hailed the bill, saying it marked the Spanish government's recognition that the repression of the pro-independence movement was illegal, and defined the moment as "the beginning of the end of the nightmare."


Junts spokesperson in Congress, Míriam Nogueras, said that the "gaps" in the law have been amended and that if it is not applied, it will not be because of the law, but because of how judges interpret it.

"A person exercising their right to protest is not a terrorist. The amnesty bill debated on January 30 did not include this. Today, we can say that it is included," Nogueras said.


Catalan government spokesperson Patrícia Plaja said the law will allow Catalonia to "enter a second phase of negotiations" focused on an independence referendum.  

In the same vein, Junts general secretary Jordi Turull warned the Socialists that the amnesty law "does not solve the political conflict" and that they will seek self-determination.  

Spanish police officers face voters in Lleida during the 2017 independence referendum
Spanish police officers face voters in Lleida during the 2017 independence referendum / ACN

During the debate, the conservative People's Party (PP) and the far-right Vox spoke out against the bill, calling it a "corrupt law" and a "secessionist coup".  

PP MP Cuca Gamarra said the bill was "unjust, unconstitutional, and immoral" because it sought to forgive the most serious crimes in democracy: treason against the state, terrorism, and corruption. 

"They have made worse what was already wrong. The amendments introduced in the law make it even more unconstitutional and illegal," she said.

PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo strongly criticized the amnesty bill. "We cannot allow a prime minister to be appointed in exchange for legal impunity," he said.

What happens next?

On Thursday next week, the bill will be voted on in Congress, where it will almost certainly pass this time. It will then go to the Senate, where the People's Party has a majority and has already announced that it will try to undermine and delay the law.  

However, the bill will return to Congress, where the Socialists will again have to use their majority to override the Senate's amendments, if any, in order to pass the bill. Only then will the amnesty law be approved and judges will have to conform their rulings to the law.  

However, if a court raises the question of unconstitutionality, the amnesty bill would not come into effect until the Spanish Constitutional Court issues its ruling, which could take months.

Who will benefit from the bill?

Once approved, the amnesty law will benefit all those involved in the independence movement, pardoning individuals who have been investigated, accused or charged with a wide range of crimes, including embezzlement, disobedience, and even terrorism.  

It will also cover those sentenced in 2019 for their roles in organizing the referendum, such as exiled former president Carles Puigdemont and his former vice president Oriol Junqueras. 

The original amnesty proposal covered those prosecuted from January 2012 to November 2023, but the revised version extends this period back to November 2011.  

Estimates of the number of beneficiaries under the law vary widely. Based on the first draft, the pro-independence civil society organization Òmnium estimated that around 1,500 people would benefit, while the Socialists estimated the number to be around 300. 

Currently, the exact number of beneficiaries under the current text remains uncertain, but Junts claims that the revised version will extend its benefits to an additional 150 to 200 people compared to the original proposal.