Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez has said he will issue pardons on Tuesday for nine jailed Catalan leaders, in a controversial effort to calm tensions surrounding the country’s territorial crisis.
The nine prisoners were convicted of sedition, and in four cases misuse of public funds, for their role in a failed attempt by Catalonia to break away from Spain in 2017. Their sentences range from nine years to 13 years in the case of former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras.
Mr Sánchez, a Socialist, has spoken in recent weeks of the need to take a conciliatory approach on the Catalan issue, encouraging speculation that he would approve the pardons. At an event in Barcelona’s Liceu theatre he confirmed his intention to do so during Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
“The Spanish government has decided to face up to the problem and seek harmony,” Mr Sánchez said, explaining he sought to “begin the path to recover co-existence and normality”.
“Time alone does not cure wounds, courage and willingness to take on our pain are also needed,” he added.
The pardons will be partial and are expected to lead to the release of the nine leaders, although they could remain barred from office.
Their imprisonment has been a major grievance for the Catalan independence movement, which says they are political prisoners. Mr Sánchez hopes the pardons will calm tensions between Madrid and Catalonia and in the northeastern region itself, which remains deeply divided on the independence issue.
A new coalition Catalan government took office recently, led by the Catalan Republican Left (ERC). The party has moderated its approach to independence, with a more gradualist strategy, identifying the Scottish National Party (SNP) as a model to follow.
The Catalan government has cautiously welcomed the pardons initiative, although it says an amnesty would be preferable. It also says that about 3,000 other pro-independence politicians face legal action for their role in the events of 2017.
“With this decision there is a correction, an amendment to an unfair sentence,” Catalan president Pere Aragonès said of the anticipated pardons. “Because defending and working for the people of Catalonia to freely decide their future can never be a crime.”
However, the right-wing opposition has fiercely attacked the plan, warning that the pardons are an attempt by the prime minister to appease nationalists whose support he needs in parliament. Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), said the move will "destroy the foundations of our system of co-existence" and is "lethal for the future of Spain".
Polls show that well over half of Spaniards oppose the pardons. However, most Catalans support them and Mr Sánchez received a boost last week when the CEOE business association declared itself in favour of the initiative.