Spain pardons Catalan leaders over independence bid


International Desk-

The Spanish government has formally pardoned nine Catalan separatists who were convicted over a failed independence bid in 2017.

The leaders were imprisoned after being found guilty of sedition in 2019. Three others were convicted of disobedience but not jailed at the same time.

The pardons have sparked controversy in Spain and tens of thousands protested against the decision this month.

But the government argues the move will help calm tensions over Catalonia.

The semi-autonomous region’s drive for independence almost four years ago plunged Spain into its biggest political crisis in 40 years.

“With this act, we want to open a new era of dialogue and reconciliation, and end once and for all the division and confrontation,” said Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in a televised address on Tuesday.

The prisoners’ release may take up to several days, as the pardons must first be signed by the king and published in the country’s official gazette.

The decision did not overturn the prisoners’ ban on holding office and was conditional on them not committing any other crimes within a certain period of time, Mr Sánchez explained.

He said the government did not require those pardoned to abandon their political ideas, underlining that they had been convicted for their actions and not their beliefs.

One of the nine who were imprisoned, Catalonia’s former foreign minister Raül Romeva, remained defiant.

“By pardoning nine people, they will not hide the repression they continue exercising against hundreds of separatists,” he said in a tweet. “We won’t give up the fight: amnesty and self-determination!”

A number of opposition parties have said they intend to appeal against the pardons. The centre-right leader of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, said that the government’s decision was a humiliation for Spain: “far from bringing harmony, [it] strengthens separatism and social division”.