Reform of crime of sedition one step closer to being approved

Revamped penal code to include 'aggravated public disorder' as MPs accept it for consideration

Socialist spokesperson in Congress, Patxi López, with Unidas Podemos' parliamentary president, Jaume Asens, before registering the reform of the criminal code in the chamber on November 11, 2022
Socialist spokesperson in Congress, Patxi López, with Unidas Podemos' parliamentary president, Jaume Asens, before registering the reform of the criminal code in the chamber on November 11, 2022 / Andrea Zamorano
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

November 25, 2022 12:50 AM

November 25, 2022 01:00 AM

The Spanish Congress is closer to accepting reforming the penal code by replacing the crime of sedition with "aggravated public disorder."

In an unusual vote past midnight on Thursday, a majority of MPs accepted it for consideration.

The initiative was proposed by the senior Spanish government coalition partner, the Socialist party, and junior partner Unidas Podemos, using the quickest parliamentary procedure – thus, the vote took place in a plenary session in Madrid that had been mainly reserved to discuss the 2023 budget, which was approved some hours earlier.

Spain's cabinet had the support of parties including Catalan pro-independence Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and Basque political forces, but not other Catalan pro-independence forces such as CUP, who voted No, like right-wing unionists Cs, PP and Vox, and Junts, who abstained.

The reform of the penal code will now have to be discussed among lawmakers, who can put forward amendments, before a final approval in Congress and a following debate in the Senate. 

Future for Catalan pro-independence leaders

The deal to reform sedition 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

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

With the sedition law reform on its way to be approved in Congress, there could be some 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. 

"Aggravated public disorder"

In 2019, nine high-ranking pro-independence politicians and leading activists were sentenced to between 9 and 13 years in jail for their roles in the 2017 referendum, with the Supreme Court finding them guilty of sedition, a crime that was written into the penal code in 1822. 

When announcing the proposal to reform the law earlier in November, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez said that this move will put Spain's criminal code "on the same level" as that of its neighbors such as France, Italy, and Switzerland.

Indeed, the head of the government said that Germany removed the crime of sedition in 1970 and replaced it with one similar to what was approved on Thursday in the Spanish Congress. 

The new norm will see some changes. Firstly, public order offenses disturbing the peace, which currently apply to "acts of violence or threats" against "people or things" will widen to include two more categories: "acts of violence or intimidation" on "people or things" (as before), "obstructing public roads causing risk to the life or health of people", or "invading facilities or buildings." 

These public order offenses will carry a sentence of six months to three years. 

The new text also sets a punishment of between three and five years imprisonment for "aggravated public offenses" for those who commit the above acts "with a crowd that has a suitable number, organization, and purpose to seriously affect public order." 

Previously, the maximum sentence for the crime of aggravated public disorder was six years. 

The new norm will replace the current Chapter I of Title XXI of the Penal Code which currently reads as a title 'Sedition'. 

This chapter will be erased and will be replaced with public disorder offenses, therefore, meaning lower sentences, but also the new law will require there to be "violence or intimidation," something which wasn't necessary for the sedition convictions handed down to pro-independence leaders – it was enough that there was "mass disobedience", that prevented authorities from carrying out tasks. 


Listen to the Filling the Sink podcast episode published on November 19 to learn more about it.