MADRID (AP) — The two parties making up Spain’s leftist coalition government on Friday presented a proposal to reform the centuries-old crime of sedition, which was one of the main charges against pro-independence Catalan activists and politicians convicted for their roles in a 2017 secession push.
Under the proposal, sedition will be replaced with the crime of aggravated public disorder and will carry lower sentences.
With the support of smaller regional parties almost guaranteed, the bill is likely to be approved by parliament over the coming months although it might undergo some minor changes.
The crime of sedition, on the books since 1822, was one of the main charges against nine of 12 pro-independence Catalan activists and politicians that were convicted for their roles in a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain issued on Oct. 27, 2017 following an illegal secession referendum earlier that month.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez issued partial pardons of the nine high-profile separatists last year, releasing them from prison after they had spent three years behind bars serving sentences that ranged between nine and 15 years. They are, however, still banned from holding public office.
Announcing the reform late Thursday, Sánchez said it would bring Spain in line with other European democracies.
But Sánchez said the reform wouldn't exempt former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his associates that fled the country in 2017 from eventually standing trial if they return, albeit for a crime with a lower sentence.
Spain has been seeking the extradition of Puigdemont from Belgium, where he now resides and serves on the European Parliament. Previous attempts to extradite those who fled Spain like Puigdemont have been frustrated by the difference between Spain’s crime of sedition and that of other European countries.
The proposal comes as the government continues talks with the separatist party that runs Catalonia's regional government to reduce tensions stemming from what was one of modern Spain’s biggest political crises ever.
Sánchez's minority government often relies on the support of that same Catalan party in Spain's national parliament, and needs it to pass the 2023 budget.
The reform would eliminate the crime of sedition, which is punishable by 10 to 15 years in prison and replace it with the crime of aggravated public disorder, with punishments of three to five years behind bars. It also reduces the time span for bans from holding public office.
The move could pave the way for a revision of the sentences handed down to the secession promoters.
Catalan regional president Pere Aragonès described the move as “a step forward in path to resolving the political conflict," while he still presses forward his demand of an authorized referendum on independence.
Spain’s main right-wing opposition Popular Party slammed the move, accusing Sánchez of pleasing the Catalan secessionists just to stay in office. Sánchez denies the idea is a concession to the Catalan secessionists, but agrees it will help ease tensions with the northeastern region.
Polls and election results show that Catalans are roughly split equally between those in favor and against independence for the wealthy corner of northeast Spain.
Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this report.
Ciarán Giles, The Associated Press