22nd May 2024
Barcelona News Catalonia News Madrid News Main News

Controversial Amnesty Law passed in Congress, will now proceed to Senate

Spanish MPs on Thursday approved a controversial amnesty law for Catalan pro-independence figures with their figurehead Carles Puigdemont already mulling his return after years of self-imposed exile to avoid prosecution over the 2017 independence bid.

Spanish Congress MPs voted 178 in favour to 172 against, with the bill – termed the ‘Organic Amnesty Law for the Institutional, Political and Social Normalisation in Catalonia’ – seeking to draw a line under years of efforts to prosecute those involved in the botched secession bid that triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Passing the amnesty is a key moment for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez as it was a demand made by Catalan pro-independence parties in exchange for their parliamentary support to allow him to serve a new term in office.

It comes six weeks after an earlier version of the bill was voted down by MPs.

The text will now be put to the Senate, which is controlled by the right-wing opposition People’s Party (PP) that is resolutely opposed to the measure and has vowed to do everything possible to delay its passage before returning it to the Congress lower house for final approval.

Drafted by ruling PSOE socialists (in a coalition government with the left-wing Sumar alliance), together with the two Catalan pro-independence parties, Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) and Esquerra Republicana (ERC), the text is the most controversial piece of legislation that parliament has voted on since Sánchez came to power in 2018, even dividing his own electorate.

Justice Minister Félix Bolaños said the amnesty law would affect ‘around 400 people’.

Talking to reporters in the European Parliament, where he is an MEP, a cheerful-looking Puigdemont expressed hope that the law would be in force ‘by the end of May’, saying late on Wednesday that he hoped to return to Spain in the weeks that followed the final passage of the bill into law.

As Catalan leader at the time, he led the 2017 independence bid, fleeing to Brussels to avoid prosecution, while nine of his fellow secessionists who stayed in Spain were tried and jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of public fund. The verdicts caused widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following pardons granted by the government led by Sánchez, but they remained banned from holding public office.

While the government says the amnesty could help hundreds of people, the pro-independence Catalan organisation Omnium Cultural says it should benefit some 4,400 people, mostly minor officials and ordinary citizens who either helped to organise the referendum or participated in protests. Many involved in the 2017 illegal referendum are still facing legal action.

In the run-up to July’s general election, Sánchez had said he was against any offer of amnesty, but electoral calculations forced a change in his approach after the vote resulted in a hung parliament.

In order to secure a new term in office, Sánchez was forced to seek the support of Puigdemont’s hardline JxCat party and its more moderate rival ERC. In exchange, JxCat demanded the amnesty law.

ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, who was one of those jailed and then subsequently pardoned, expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the vote.

‘We have always wanted justice to prevail as soon as possible and for me it will be a pleasure to meet again with all our comrades in exile,’ he told Spain’s TVE public television.

On 30 January, parliament held a first vote on the amnesty bill, but MPs rejected it in a humiliating defeat for Sánchez, as JxCat’s seven MPs voted against it on the grounds that it did not go far enough. ALSO READ: ‘Junts per Catalunya’ vote against amnesty bill on grounds it doesn’t go far enough.

For Puigdemont, the wording did not offer sufficient protection against prosecution on charges of terrorism or treason. 

A month after the failed vote, Spain’s top court said it was opening a probe into Puigdemont on ‘terrorism’ charges over street protests linked to the 2017 crisis. ALSO READ: Spanish Supreme Court officially opens ‘terrorism’ investigation of Carles Puigdemont.

The PSOE then moved to re-open talks on the wording of the amnesty bill despite the risk that the new text could be ruled unconstitutional.

The new version removed all references to the Spanish penal code and used only European norms that offer a different definition of terrorism.

The Spanish right, which has been implacably opposed to the bill, has remained defiant.

For the PP, the amnesty bill has always been nothing more than Sánchez ‘buying’ the separatists’ votes to stay in power.

PSOE party parliamentary spokesman Patxi López defended the bill on Thursday as a move to seek a page-turning ‘reconciliation’ with Catalonia.

The PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo hit back saying that ‘this is not reconciliation but submission.’ ALSO READ: Thousands protest in central Madrid over government’s Catalan amnesty bill.

Spain granted a sweeping amnesty during its transition back to democracy following the death of dictator Franco in 1975. But legal experts are divided over the constitutionality of an amnesty for the Catalan separatists. Its legal critics say that it violates the principle of equality among Spaniards by favouring those of one region.

If and when the law is definitively approved, the application of the amnesty will be decided by the courts on a case-by-case basis.

Sánchez said that passing the amnesty law was ‘a brave and necessary step towards reunion’ [with Catalonia]. ‘With the approval of the amnesty law we open a new time of coexistence and prosperity in Catalonia.’

Click here for all our reports related to Catalan independence.

ALSO READ: Judges extend probes into Puigdemont’s alleged ‘Kremlin ties’ and ‘Tsunami terrorism’.

Sign up for the FREE Weekly Newsletter from Spain in English.

Please support Spain in English with a donation.

Click here to get your business activity or services listed on our DIRECTORY.

Click here for further details on how to ADVERTISE with us.


Recent Posts

Spain withdraws ambassador to Argentina ‘definitively’, as Milei refuses to apologise

News Desk

Spain recalls ambassador after Argentina’s Milei calls Sánchez’s wife ‘corrupt’

News Desk

British Embassy: ‘Get the TIE now’ – ahead of EU’s Entry Exit System coming into force

News Desk

Three Spanish tourists killed by gunmen in Afghanistan’s Bamyan province

News Desk

Pedro Sánchez: socialist win in Catalonia ‘ends decade of division and resentment’

News Desk

Sale of Vodafone’s Spanish division for up to €5 billion receives green light

News Desk

Leave a Comment