Spanish government will pardon jailed independence leaders on Tuesday

President Pedro Sánchez announces measure in Barcelona in order to encourage 'reconciliation' between Catalonia and Spain 

Spanish president Pedro Sánchez photographed during a congress session in May 2021 (by Spanish congress)
Spanish president Pedro Sánchez photographed during a congress session in May 2021 (by Spanish congress) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

June 21, 2021 12:18 PM

The Spanish government will pardon the nine jailed pro-independence leaders on Tuesday.

The head of the government, Pedro Sánchez, announced the move in a speech on Monday in Barcelona's Liceu opera house. 

He said the measure will encourage "reconciliation" between Catalonia and Spain.

"We don't expect those who want independence to change their minds—but for them to understand that they must respect the law." 

Nine politicians and activists were convicted in October 2019 to between 9 and 13 years in prison for sedition for their role in the 2017 independence push and referendum – these include six Catalan ministers at the time, the parliament speaker in 2017 and the leaders of grassroots ANC and Òmnium organizations. They have been behind bars for three to four years so far. 

According to the Spanish president, this will be a first step towards leaving behind "confrontation."

For Sánchez, the pardons law, introduced in 1870, exists "in order to resolve conflicts and open paths for understanding, so that living together is possible."

The legislation provides the Spanish executive the exclusive powers to pardon any person convicted with a final sentence, and Sánchez recalled the legal base for his decision, including the 1870 law and Article 62 of the Constitution – indeed, he called on the Spanish political arena to not question the legality of the pardons, implicitly referring to the right-wing parties, staunchly against them.

During the speech he claimed that the "social cost" of keeping Catalan leaders in prison is "high," and said that "society can’t afford it." 

Message for independence campaigners

Sánchez admitted that the pardons would not deter independence campaigners from their belief that a split with Spain is the best way forward.

Yet, he sent a message to them: "By letting these nine people out of prison, we're symbolically bringing millions of Catalans who support them to coexistence."

Those in favor of a Catalan Republic favor an amnesty for everyone involved in judicial procedures stemming from the independence push, which would not only include the jailed politicians and activists, but also those in exile such as former president Carles Puigdemont.

Thus, independence supporters are divided on the pardons: while some explicitly accept them, such as the government and one of the jailed leaders, former vice president Oriol Junqueras, others, including the hundreds of demonstrators who were outside the opera hall on Monday, view them as a kind of surrender.

The protests also spread into the main event itself, with a heckler briefly interrupting the Spanish president with shouts of "independence" and "amnesty." 

Sánchez concluded his speech by calling for a a new start. "We can't start from scratch, but we can start anew. There's a way to go. Tomorrow, we can change the lives of nine people—and I hope that we also start to change our history. Catalonia, Catalans, we love you."

Catalan president reacts

The Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, who did not attend the Liceu event, welcomed the fact that "the unjust sentencing" was "corrected," but complained that it was "a partial, incomplete solution."

He reiterated his government's stance in favor of an amnesty for everyone involved in judicial proceedings related to the 2017 independence push, and another, agreed referendum as a long-term solution.

He said that Sánchez in his speech hadn't announced any solutions to the underlying political conflict.