Anger as Spanish PM hints at pardon for jailed Catalan leaders

‘When we talk about Catalonia, no one is blameless,’ said the Spanish PM

Graham Keeley
In Madrid
Wednesday 30 December 2020 14:17 GMT
A man with a banner reading ‘Freedom for political prisoners’ in Barcelona earlier this month (EPA/ENRIC FONTCUBERTA)
A man with a banner reading ‘Freedom for political prisoners’ in Barcelona earlier this month (EPA/ENRIC FONTCUBERTA) (EPA)
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Spain's Socialist prime minister has sparked a bitter political row when he hinted that his government might be prepared to grant pardons for the nine Catalan political leaders who were jailed for their part in the 2017 failed independence drive which split the country.  

Separatist politicians and activists were imprisoned last year for between eight and 13 years for their part in a failed attempt to split from Spain.  

The long jail terms handed down at the end of a high-profile trial prompted violent protests in Catalonia.  

Pedro Sanchéz, the Spanish prime minister, was asked on Tuesday if his left-wing coalition government would grant pardons for the imprisoned leaders ahead of key regional elections in Catalonia on February 14.

“This is a government that from the beginning has not hidden its intentions,” he replied.  

“This is a government that is clearly committed to reunification, reconciliation and coexistence in Catalonia and from Catalonia to Spain.”

Mr Sanchez refused to be drawn on whether the government had a timetable for granting pardons. 

The complicated process of granting pardons requires the approval of the Supreme Court and the government.  

However, Mr Sanchéz added: “It is very important to overcome unfortunate episodes which make the whole country blush. When we talk about Catalonia, no one is blameless. We have all made mistakes, must look ahead and be able to find a space where we can find ourselves again.”

The conservative People's Party (PP) said it would appeal through the Constitutional Court if the  government pushed ahead with plans to pardon the jailed Catalan leaders.  

Enrique López, of the PP, said: “This would be a shameful act on the part of the government to grant a pardon to people who have not asked said sorry for an illegal act.”  

The far-right Vox and the centrist Ciudadanos party also said they oppose any move to free the imprisoned leaders.  

Support for independence is on the wane in Catalonia according to the latest poll carried out earlier this month for the regional government.  

The number of Catalans in favour of staying part of Spain was 49.9 per cent, compared with 45.1 per cent who backed independence. In comparison in March 2019 – at the start of the trial of the nine Catalan leaders - 48.4 per cent supported splitting from Spain, the highest level ever reached so far.

Spain's government hopes that by moving towards a pardon for the jailed separatists it might help swing the Catalan elections in its favour.  

A poll for the separatist run Catalan government earlier this month gave the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana Catalana (ERC) party the lead with the hardline separatists Junts per Catalunya in second place.  

Mr Sanchéz hopes that any gesture to free the Catalan leaders might help persuade the ERC to form an alliance with the Socialists or the far-left En Comun Podem.  

Catalonia, which accounts for about 20 per cent of Spanish GDP, is currently ruled by an alliance between the ERC and Junts per Catalunya.  

Previous efforts to find a way to free the imprisoned Catalan leaders failed.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck down moves to allow the nine prisoners to spend their weekends in prison.  

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