How the sedition law reform could impact independence referendum organizers

Full Professor of Procedural Law at the University of Barcelona, Jordi Nieva, shares his view

Former ministers Raül Romeva and Jordi Turull, and former vice president Oriol Junqueras (from left to right) while still in office October 10, 2017
Former ministers Raül Romeva and Jordi Turull, and former vice president Oriol Junqueras (from left to right) while still in office October 10, 2017 / Jordi Play
Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | @pile_of_eggs | Barcelona

November 19, 2022 11:36 AM

November 19, 2022 11:48 AM

The Spanish government will soon put forward reform of the penal code in Congress, removing 'sedition' as a crime and replacing it with the lesser 'aggravated public disorder.' 

Although it is yet to be voted on by lawmakers in the chamber, as well as have potential amendments introduced, it is expected to be passed with the support of Catalan pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana as well as Basque parties that give support to the minority Spanish government. 

The deal was announced following talks between the Spanish and Catalan governments known as the 'dialogue table,' a forum where both administrations aim to resolve the political conflict through negotiation. In a summer meeting between the two sides, an agreement was reached to "dejudicialize" politics

Sedition is the most serious crime that the organizers of the 2017 independence push were convicted of in 2019, for which they received prison sentences of between 9-13 years. The independence leaders were ultimately pardoned and freed, but those pardons are being appealed in courts, and the possibility remains that they could be overturned. 

If that scenario arrives, the reform of the sedition law could have a huge impact on what comes next for the pardoned leaders, a group that includes some of the biggest names in Catalan politics, such as the party president of ERC, Oriol Junqueras, and the general-secretary of Junts per Catalunya, Jordi Turull. 

What the sedition law reform could mean for politics

Jordi Nieva, a Full Professor of Procedural Law at the University of Barcelona, gave Catalan News his view on the potential impact the reform of the sedition law could have on the situation of the independence leaders, as well as the situation of the referendum organizers who left the country in the autumn of 2017, such as then-president Carles Puigdemont. 

Firstly, in the event that the pardons are declared void, and if the crime of sedition incurred a prison sentence of between 10-15 years in jail, but that crime was replaced by one with a maximum penalty of just five years, as aggravated public disorder has, magistrates will have to "adapt the judgment," Nieva says.

The professor explains that the independence leaders spent a total of almost four years in jail, including their time in provisional jail, so "that would mean that they were more or less at the end of the fulfillment of the penalty, so they wouldn't have to serve more time in prison."  

Another element of their punishment was the fact that they were barred from holding public office, which could also be impacted by the reform of the law, although Nieva adds the caveat that this side of the punishment is not so clear. 

"What the sentence said is that they couldn't be in office while serving their time in prison. But if the time in prison is decreased, then also the time of being barred from being in office should be as well decreased. But this is not so sure," he explains.

Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín, Clara Ponsatí, Lluís Puig, and Marta Rovira are all living in exile and wanted by Spain for their roles in the 2017 independence push. Spain has attempted to extradite most of the independence leaders numerous times before, but to no avail. 

They were requested to be transferred for the crime of sedition, but as Jordi Nieva explains, "if this crime no longer exists, that would mean that the Spanish justice would have to repeat the request to the justice in Belgium, and then they shall start a new procedure about that." 

"The new crimes could be something that finds a corresponding crime in the legislation of Belgium. And that's why they [the Socialists] say that it would be maybe easier" to extradite the exiled pro-independence leaders, the professor says.