8th February 2023
Catalan leaders on trial
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Spain to update sedition law to become ‘aggravated public disorder’

The coalition government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is introducing a bill to reform the criminal code by updating the offence of ‘sedition’, bringing it in line with European norms, in an aim to ‘defuse’ tensions in Catalonia. The offence will be changed to ‘aggravated public disorder,’ which will have a different maximum penalty.

The law gained massive attention in October 2017, after the Catalan government led by Carles Puigdemont staged a referendum banned by Madrid (with Mariano Rajoy Prime Minister at the time) and then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades. 

Nine Catalan politicians and activists were eventually jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of funds – with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following the pardons granted by the coalition government led by Sánchez. Puigdemont remains in self-imposed exile in Belgium and is now an MEP.

Sánchez announced that his government would be introducing the bill to the Spanish Congress on Friday during an interview with La Sexta TV on Thursday. 

In the TV interview, Sánchez said his socialist PSOE party and its coalition ally, the left-wing Podemos party, would be presenting the initiative to parliament on Friday in a move that would ‘defuse’ tensions in Catalonia.

‘We are going to present a legislative initiative to reform the crime of sedition and replace it with an offence comparable to what they have in other European democracies such as Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland,’ he said.

The move would be ‘a step forward’, he said, revising a crime dating back to 1822.

‘I think it will be an initiative that will also help to defuse the situation in Catalonia,’ Sánchez added.

If the bill is passed, sedition wll be renamed an ‘aggravated public disorder’, with penalties similar to those ‘set out in the penal codes of European democracies’.

The failed independence bid sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, with Puigdemont and several others fleeing abroad to escape prosecution.

Spain still wants to try Puigdemont and two others, and the proposed bill would not change that, Sánchez said.

‘The crimes committed in 2017 will continue to be present in our penal code, although no longer as crimes of sedition … but as a new type of crime called aggravated public disorder,’ he said.

The Catalan government and Spain’s central government, led by Sánchez, had previously been holding ‘dialogue’ meetings in an attempt to resolve the Catalan political conflict.

The concept of the ‘bilateral negotiation table’ dialogue process was a prerequisite for the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC) party abstaining in the investiture vote for Sánchez to become prime minister in January 2020, thereby facilitating the socialist leader taking office again.

Spain’s main right-wing opposition party, the People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox party fiercely oppose changing penal code and sedition law, with many already labelling Sánchez as a ‘traitor’. Vox’s leader in Catalonia, Ignacio Garriga, tweeted to say that ‘there is no bigger traitor than Sánchez’. 

Catalan president Pere Aragonès welcomed the news on Twitter, saying that ‘the elimination of the crime of sedition is an essential step for dejudicialisation’.

Catalan leaders on trial
Former Catalan leaders including (from front row right to left) Oriol Junqueras, Raul Romeva, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Sanchez, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Jordi Cuixart, Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Carles Mundo, Santi Vila and Meritxel Borras attend their trial at the Supreme Court in Madrid on 12 February 2019. (Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP)

Click here for all our reports related to Catalan independence. 

ALSO READ: UN human rights committee says Spain at fault for suspension of Catalan MPs.

ALSO READ: ‘CatalanGate’: politicians, activists accuse Spain of ‘huge & illegal’ spying.

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