The Spanish prime minister will issue pardons for 9 imprisoned Catalan separatists

Spain’s left-wing government will issue pardons for nine imprisoned Catalan separatists, in a move that Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says will pave the way for reconciliation on the country’s most divisive issue, but which the opposition says which undermines the rule of law.

New politicians and activists have been jailed for their roles in an illegal 2017 independence referendum. On Monday in a speech at Barcelona’s Opera Lice, Sanchez said his cabinet met Tuesday to pardon rest of the prisons of the Catalans.

“The government has decided to pave the way for reconciliation,” the prime minister said. “If there’s a moment to join, it’s now.” He argued that the pardons would have an impact not only on the nine prisoners but also the hundreds of thousands of people who followed them.

The government says the move is an attempt to promote dialogue and ease tensions over the Catalan independence dispute – Spain’s most sensitive issue. But pardons are deeply unpopular in much of the country and fiercely opposed by opposition parties and many judges. A recent survey suggested that 61 percent of the population opposes it, with only 29.5 percent in favor.

The new Catalans in prison were condemned to terms up to 13 years in 2019 for charges such as sedition. There are Oriol Junqueras, the former deputy head of the regional administration and leader of the largest separatist party, the Catalan Republican Left, or ERC.

The case revolved around the behavior of Catalans during the 2017 independence referendum – which led to an abortive declaration of independence shortly afterwards and a period of direct rule from Madrid. The nine Catalans have been in prison for more than three years, but will be released as soon as partial pardon is published.

Protesters hold Catalan independence flags during a demonstration in Barcelona on Monday © Joan Mateu / AP

Sánchez described the move as a step towards negotiations between the national and Catalan administrations to reach an agreement on the status of the region. But the Catalan pro-independence coalition government is demanding self-determination and an amnesty. It is divided between the ERC, which is more inclined towards dialogue with Madrid, and Together for Catalonia, the junior, more radical partner of the regional government, which holds open the option of a return to unilateral action, as ‘and another referendum.

A backlash against Catalan separatism has fueled the rule in recent elections and the country’s opposition claims that the minority government has undermined the rule of law in exchange for the votes of the separatists in parliament.

“Sánchez sold stability and national unity for a few months in addition to red carpets and an official plane,” Pablo Casado, leader of the center-right popular party, told ABC over the weekend. “He believes in nothing but his own power and keeping himself in power even at the cost of leaving behind him an absolutely broken, disunited and conflicted country.”

The Spanish Supreme Court, which imposed the original sentences, has also strongly opposed the pardons, calling such a move as “unacceptableAnd noting that the prisoners had shown no remorse.

But church and business organizations have in recent days signaled support for Sanchez’s move. The Cercle d’Economia, an organization that brings together much of Catalonia’s business elite, also welcomed the pardons. “If things are normalized, it will be welcome,” Antonio Garamendi, head of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations, said last week.

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