Sánchez pardons nine political prisoners: "It is the best decision for Catalonia and Spain"

Spanish government estimates pro-independence leaders will be released from prison on Wednesday

4 min
Pedro Sánchez during the Council of Ministers that has approved the pardon for political prisoners.

MadridThe nine pardons for political prisoners have arrived this Tuesday, June 22, 2021, 1,345 days after the president of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, and former ANC leader Jordi Sànchez entered Soto de Real prison. It was October 16, 2017. The investigating magistrate of the Audiencia Nacional, Carmen Lamela, ordered pre-trial detention without bail and the imprisonment has been extended until now, with breaks for permits and a short-lived open prison regime. The Council of Ministers, which lasted over four hours because practically all ministers intervened, has formalised the granting of the measure of grace that will allow that, in the next few hours, pro-independence leaders convicted of sedition and embezzlement will spend no more time in prison. The exact timing will be linked to the speed with which Felipe VI signs the decrees and the Supreme Court orders their release. The Spanish government believes that it will be complete by Wednesday, once decrees are published to the Official Bulletin of the State.

"After evaluating the reasons for and against, the Council of Ministers has considered that there are reasons of public utility. They are partial pardons. We commute the prison sentence, but the bar from office is maintained, and they are also conditioned to [the prisoners] not committing a serious crime - which is punishable by five years or more of imprisonment - for a certain time. There is conditionality," announced the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, from the steps of the Moncloa, where he delivered an institutional statement. This term is six years for the president of ERC, Oriol Junqueras, and the former councilors Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn; five for Sànchez and Cuixart; four for the former president of the Parliament Forcadell and the former counselor Raül Romeva and three for the former counselor Dolors Bassa.

The head of the executive has assured that "it is the best decision for Catalonia and for Spain". "Spain would not be Spain without Catalonia and Catalonia would not be Catalonia without Spain," he said. Sánchez also expressed his willingness to open the door to dialogue with the independence movement and asserted that his government "will continue to work for understanding and not confrontation". "It is worth trying," he said.

The Spanish government believes that the day of the referendum boosted the case for independence, but that pardons, on the contrary, make it weaker. For the executive it is a gesture of its own initiative that forces the independence movement to reciprocate within the framework of the dialogue table. In this sense, Sanchez has pointed out that he defends providing more self-government in Catalonia and sources in the Moncloa argue that it is time for the Catalan government to yield and corner the demands for self-determination and amnesty. "They cannot get stuck on the phase where they do not listen to the other side," they add. "We are open to approaches that allow us to move forward. Proposals that are outside the constitutional framework are immobilist and will not allow us to move forward," said the Spanish government's spokeswoman, Maria Jesus Montero, at a press conference

Spain's international image

Moncloa accepts that the fact that there are political leaders sentenced to so many prison sentences is something "exceptional" and is difficult to understand at European and world level. A circumstance that helped in the "pro-independence movement's tendency to see itself as being victimised" and the "disaffection" of part of Catalan society, say government sources. It has been a reason that has contributed to the decision. Precisely, this Monday a report by the Council of Europe was published which demanded the measure of grace, the reform of the crime of sedition and the withdrawal of the euro-orders. The pro-independence movement, which continues demanding amnesty, maintains that the executive has ended up being forced into pardons due to international pressure.

The socialist leader decided weeks ago to take this step. The Spanish president proclaimed from Brussels on 25 May that it was necessary to "look to the future and not get caught up in revenge". and, since then, members of the executive have endorsed the measure but without actually using the exact words. Until this Monday when Sánchez said in his conference at the Liceu: "Acting in the constitutional spirit of concord, I will propose to the cabinet to grant a pardon for nine [politicians] sentenced over the Independence bid who are in prison".

The political debate in recent weeks has been marked by pardons and the right wing has already announced that it will appeal them before the third chamber of the Supreme Court. The right wing qualifies them as "illegal". It believes, among other things, that they are general pardons -the Constitution forbids it-, but the Moncloa has insisted that they are individualised. The nine orders have common fragments relating to context, the regulation of the measure of grace and the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in this respect, and a second part in which the circumstances of each one are dealt with. The path followed by the prisoners is evaluated: the term for not reoffending is the least extensive for Bassa because she has left politics -Forn too, but his is six years-, while as a percentage of their remaining sentence, that Cuixart's and Sànchez's are the highest.

The pardons are necessarily partial because the Supreme Court opposed them in its report. The key is in the argumentation of this discretionary measure, which is the power of the Spanish government but that the Supreme Court can review if an appeal is filed with the contentious-administrative chamber. Sanchez has already outlined the "public utility" for the "coexistence" pardons represents, although the prosecution and the sentencing court have stressed the opposite. The lack of repentance and the commitment to "do it again" has been read as a will to reoffend by judicial bodies. The Spanish government insists that the criteria of the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Supreme Court are not binding, and is "absolutely convinced" that the motivation is sufficiently explained - each file is about thirty pages - for the third chamber not to overrule the pardons.