Spain to replace crime of sedition with ‘aggravated public disorder’

PM Pedro Sánchez announces plans to "reform" crime that saw decade-long sentences for independence leaders

Spain's PM, Pedro Sánchez, in a press conference after a European Council meeting in Prague
Spain's PM, Pedro Sánchez, in a press conference after a European Council meeting in Prague / Nazaret Romero
Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | @enGuifre | Madrid

November 10, 2022 09:46 PM

November 11, 2022 09:48 AM

The Spanish government will replace the crime of sedition with one of "aggravated public disorder," which will have a different maximum penalty.

In an interview with La Sexta TV channel on Thursday night, prime minister Pedro Sánchez said that on Friday his party, the Socialists, together with their junior coalition partner, Unidas Podemos, will put forward an amendment to the criminal code that will see the crime of sedition "reformed".

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. 

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 that which the Spanish government parties will put forward on Friday. 

Move ahead of 2023 budget

The announcement coincides with the need of the Socialists to persuade some pro-independence parties to pass the Spanish 2023 budget, although Sánchez denied that it was the reason for his plans.

All pro-independence parties have been asking for an amnesty for those who still face ongoing judicial cases stemming from the 2017 independence push.

While Sánchez made clear in the interview that the move is not an amnesty, he did say that the decision aims to further de-escalate the political conflict with Catalonia and "put an end" to the independence push that peaked in 2017.

In the latest round of talks between the Catalan and Spanish governments over the issue, both sides agreed to "dejudicialize" the issue, which anticipated the move announced on Thursday.

Catalan president: 'It is an essential step for dejudicialization'

Shortly after the announcement, Catalan president Pere Aragonès welcomed the news on Twitter, saying that "the elimination of the crime of sedition is an essential step for dejudicialization."

"We continue to work in order to put a complete end to repression and to be able to vote in a referendum, to resolve the political conflict and for freedom."

The People's Party secretary general, Cuca Gamarra, reacted very differently.

She said Sánchez is "paying the price of being able to stay longer in the post at the expense of equality before the law."

Far-right Vox's leader in Catalonia, Ignacio Garriga, said that "there is no bigger traitor than Sánchez." 

Meanwhile, the also unionist Ciudadanos party head, Inés Arrimadas, said that the PM is "dismantling the criminal code."

"It sets a very dangerous precedent and gives in to separatists arbitrarily."

As for Jaume Asens, the congressional president of anti-austerity Unidas Podemos, he believes Sánchez "has complied with his commitment." 

"Democracy wins," he added also on Twitter.

Potential impact on exiled Puigdemont

Sánchez also made clear that the former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, who has been in exile in Brussels ever since the failed declaration of independence of 2017 in order to avoid sitting in the dock in Spain, would still have to "face justice" if he were to return.

Puigdemont is not only being wanted in Spain for sedition but also for misuse of public funds, which may imply prison.

In a recent letter, the exiled leader denied wanting to return in the event of a move such as that which was announced on Thursday by Sánchez. "I understand that me accepting a resolution [of the conflict] based on the reform of the criminal code could benefit Spain, but I cannot see anywhere how this would benefit the Catalan independence campaign," Puigdemont said in late October.

"I do not seek or want this personal benefit," he pointed out, adding that accepting a personal solution would be "giving up politically."

Also, the Spanish PM anticipated potential criticism of unionist hardliners saying that the reform of sedition "will not weaken" Spain ahead of another independence push.

Sánchez did not mention other exiled leaders, such as Marta Rovira, in Switzerland, who is only accused of sedition.