Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Saturday that he supports granting a controversial amnesty to those involved in Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid, in the hope of persuading the region’s parties to back him in government.
‘In the name of Spain, in the interest of Spain, in defence of co-existence between Spaniards, today I defend amnesty in Catalonia … for the events of the past decade,’ Sánchez said during a meeting of the Socialist PSOE Party’s Federal Committee in Madrid.
The announcement was met with applause and a standing ovation from those present.
Sánchez, who is trying to form a coalition government three months after an inconclusive election, agreed a coalition deal with the left-wing Sumar this week, but needs further support to be able to officially continue his premiership. ALSO READ: Pedro Sánchez and Yolanda Díaz reach PSOE-Sumar coalition deal.
He needs the backing of the two Catalan pro-independence parties, Esquerra Republicana (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), who have demanded an amnesty law that could potentially cover more than 1,400 people involved in the failed independence bid. ALSO READ: Puigdemont demands ‘amnesty’ for all independence activists as ‘precondition’ for Sánchez’s investiture.
They have said their support also depends on another independence referendum.
‘To continue moving forward, we must overcome all the episodes that in the past divided us and fractured our societies,’ Sánchez said.
He said his party ‘looks at the problems head on’, adding 80% of Catalans supported an agreement on the issue.
The potential amnesty has unleashed a political storm in Spain, with mainly right-wing opponents holding large protests and accusing Sánchez of jeopardising the rule of law for his own political gain. ALSO READ: Right-wing and far-right politicians join thousands in anti-amnesty rally in Barcelona.
Background to Catalan political conflict
Nine Catalan politicians and activists were jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the 2017 illegal referendum, with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following pardons granted by the government led by socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, but they remained banned from holding public office.
Late last year, Spain passed a controversial criminal code reform that downgraded the two charges used against them, abolishing sedition and replacing it with that of aggravated public disorder, and also reducing the penalty for misuse of public funds.
Misuse of public funds can carry prison time of between six months and up to five years if convicted, but disobedience only carries a disqualification from public office.
Carles Puigdemont led the government of Catalonia when it staged the referendum banned by Madrid and the courts, which was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence.
The JxCat leader fled Spain shortly after to avoid prosecution and now lives in Belgium, where he is also an MEP. His JxCat party unexpectedly emerged as kingmaker following the 23 July early general election in Spain.
El resultado en Cataluña prueba que las medidas de gracia, los indultos, han tenido un efecto mucho mayor del que podía suponer sobre la sociedad catalana.— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) October 28, 2023
Cataluña está lista para el reencuentro total.
En el nombre de España, en el interés de España, en defensa de la… pic.twitter.com/qLJ80ts53G