Pardon for Catalan leaders: a middle-ground solution that makes neither side happy

Proposal angers right-wing unionists denouncing 'illegal' concession to pro-independence parties, who in turn demand a full amnesty

Protesters in Brussels call for the “freedom of Catalan political prisoners” in front of the Spanish embassy on September 11, 2020 (by Nazaret Romero)
Protesters in Brussels call for the “freedom of Catalan political prisoners” in front of the Spanish embassy on September 11, 2020 (by Nazaret Romero) / Alan Ruiz Terol

Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

September 25, 2020 08:49 PM

When considering a potential pardon for Catalonia's jailed pro-independence leaders, the Spanish government is faced with a proposal aimed at "fostering mutual understanding" after years of political tension that will make neither side happy.

While pro-independence parties demand an amnesty law that nullifies the Supreme Court verdict that sentenced their leaders for sedition a year ago, Spain's right-wing parties threaten the Socialist-led coalition government with legal action for what they see as a concession to the "enemies of Spain."

On Friday, the Lliga Democràtica party filed the formal request for a presidential pardon for the politicians and activists imprisoned for their role in the 2017 push to separate from Spain. While extremely critical toward pro-independence parties, Lliga Democràtica believes that a pardon would show "the strength of a state that, having rigorously enforced the law, is able to forgive in favor of mutual good." 

Given the current political landscape in Spain, a presidential pardon might be the easiest way for pro-independence parties to get their leaders out of prison, where they are serving up to 13-year sentences. But a pardon would only amend the punishment, not the entire judicial process. 

The justice minister of the Catalan government, Ester Capella, dismissed presidential pardons as a "stopgap" that would provide no "political solution" to the independence conflict, which for years has been centered on whether Catalans have the right to hold an independence vote.

Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), two civil society groups whose leaders were imprisoned for leading protests in 2017, were also wary of the proposed pardons. "What Spain has to do is pass an amnesty law. Pardons are of no use," said Òmnium's vice president Marcel Mauri. 

In stark contrast to pro-independence groups, right-wing unionists were outraged at the possibility of seeing the leaders of the referendum bid walk free any time soon.

Ciudadanos (Cs), the main unionist party in Catalonia, threatened to pursue "any legal action needed" against Spanish president Pedro Sánchez, and accused him of engaging in "opaque negotiations" with pro-independence parties.   

The threat of a lawsuit was echoed by far-right Vox, who acted as a private prosecutor in the trial of Catalan independence leaders. The largest opposition group in the Spanish congress, the People’s Party, proposed a legal reform to outlaw pardons for the crimes of sedition and rebellion.

Sánchez’s government partners Podemos and their allies in Catalonia are among the few who welcomed the requested pardons as a "first step toward solving the political conflict."