Catalan leaders to leave prison after Spanish government confirms pardons
Spanish president Pedro Sánchez defends measure as means to achieve "reconciliation"
The Spanish government has granted pardons to nine jailed pro-independence leaders in Catalonia serving decade-long sentences for their role in the 2017 referendum and independence push.
They are expected to leave their cells on Wednesday at around noon. The seven male leaders have been in the Lledoners prison, while the former parliament speaker Carme Forcadell in Barcelona's Wad-Ras and the former labor minister Dolors Bassa in Figueres' Puig de les Basses.
The cabinet approved the pardons at its weekly meeting on Tuesday, after its president, Pedro Sánchez, had announced it on Monday, arguing the decision had been made in order to support "reconciliation" among Catalans and between Catalonia and Spain.
"These pardons directly benefit nine people, but the Spanish government is thinking of the hundreds of thousands of Catalans who have sympathy for those in prison," he said in a statement on Tuesday.
"These pardons directly benefit nine people, but the Spanish government is thinking of the hundreds of thousands of Catalans who have sympathy for those in prison"
Pedro Sánchez · Spanish president
The Supreme Court, which convicted the nine politicians and activists of sedition in the fall of 2019, with prison sentences ranging from 9 to 13 years, is expected to greenlight the pardons in the coming hours, allowing them to walk free having served nearly four years in prison.
Fine print: barred from office, pardons conditioned
The pardons are partial, meaning that the nine leaders are still barred from holding public office, and reversible in the sense that they will be suspended if the leaders commit a "serious crime" in the coming three to six years.
After years of ever-increasing tensions between Spain and Catalonia, the territorial dispute reached its peak in the fall of 2017, when the Catalan government pushed ahead with an unauthorized referendum and Spain responded by sacking the cabinet and suspending the region's self-rule.
Pardons 'don’t question' verdict
The imprisonment of Catalan leaders has long raised concerns among human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions.
The Council of Europe joined calls for their freedom on Monday, when a majority of 70 to 28 in its parliamentary assembly voted to approve a report calling the convictions "disproportionate."
While the pardons will effectively set the nine leaders free, the Spanish president stressed that the measure "does not question" the Supreme Court verdict.
Sànchez also explained that he does not expect pro-independence leaders to renounce their political goals, but for them to respect the law. "They were not convicted for their ideas, but for contravening the law," he said.
Catalan president calls for referendum
Speaking later on Tuesday, Catalan president Pere Aragonès said that the pardons recognize the sentencing of the nine leaders as "unfair," and greeted the measure as a "step forward" that shows that negotiation can help solve the political conflict.
As the presidential frontrunner of ERC, Aragonès defended dialogue as the best way to achieve independence and prevailed in the last election over political allies favoring a more confrontational approach.
Aragonès also urged Spain to "end repression" by supporting an amnesty for all people facing prosecution for their role in the independence bid, including former president Carles Puigdemont and other exiled politicians.
"Pardons don't solve the overall case against the independence movement, with hundreds of people awaiting trial," he said.
Catalonia's head of government also called on Sánchez to agree on a self-determination referendum "recognized internationally," which he says is the solution favored by a majority of Catalans.