Spanish parliament approves controversial amnesty law for Catalan separatists

The Spanish parliament has approved a controversial amnesty law that paves the way for hundreds of people facing prosecution for their roles in the failed independence bid in Catalonia to be pardoned.

The Socialist Party of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez put forward the amnesty last year as a way of securing the support of Catalan separatist parties after inconclusive elections.

The government has portrayed the bill as a way of moving on from the crisis of 2017, when separatist leaders attempted to push forward with Catalan secession with a referendum ruled illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court and followed it up by declaring independence.

The bill has infuriated Spain’s right, triggering large protests.

But it passed by 177 votes in favor to 172 against, helped by crucial support from two Catalan separatist parties, Junts (Together) and Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left).

After the vote, Sanchez said in a social media post that “in politics, as in life, forgiveness is more powerful than resentment.”

Spain’s main opposition conservative Popular Party and the far-right Vox party voted against the measure. Just before the vote, the Madrid regional government president Isabel Diaz Ayuso, of the Popular Party, vowed to appeal against the new law to Spain’s Constitutional Court, the highest in the land.

Spain’s amnesty law would benefit 309 people facing prosecution for their roles in the failed Catalan independence bid, including political leaders.

In addition to them, 73 police officers would be covered by the amnesty after they faced charges for their actions while trying to defend the law and the Constitution, a government source at the prime minister’s compound told CNN last November.

The amnesty law would also allow exiled independence leader Carles Puigdemont, of the Junts party, to return to Spain, as he would no longer face judicial charges. In addition, Oriol Junqueras, of the Catalan separatist Esquerra Republicana party, would no longer be barred from holding public office, a government source told CNN last November.

Leader of right-wing Vox party Santiago Abascal debates the amnesty law on Thursday. - JJ Guillen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Leader of right-wing Vox party Santiago Abascal debates the amnesty law on Thursday. - JJ Guillen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Puigdemont is a former president of the Catalan regional government who fled to Belgium in October 2017 after the failed independence bid. He participated in talks with a top Sánchez aide in Belgium last November to secure the votes of his Junts party’s seven seats in Spanish parliament for Sanchez’s investiture.

Oriol Junqueras is a former vice president of the Catalan regional government who was arrested in Spain in November 2017 and later sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in the independence attempt, the Esquerra Republicana party’s website says.

Junqueras was pardoned in 2021 by Sánchez’s Socialist government, along with some other jailed independence leaders. The Esquerra Republicana party’s seven seats in Spanish parliament also voted for Sanchez’s investiture last November.

Sánchez and Socialist leaders have said the amnesty law would help close the conflict in the sharply divided Catalan society and pave a way forward for the wealthy region in northeastern Spain.

But leaders of the conservative Popular Party, Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, and the Vox party, Santiago Abascal, both criticized the government’s move, calling it “political corruption,” in their respective speeches in parliament Thursday against the law. They said it amounted to a deal for Sanchez to stay in power in exchange for concessions to the Catalan separatists.

The legislation will take effect when it’s published “in the coming days” in the Official State Bulletin, Felix Bolaños, Minister of Justice and a top aide to Sanchez, told reporters at parliament after the vote.

Asked about the planned appeal by the conservative Madrid regional government against the new law, Bolaños said that Spain “is a state of law that guarantees the right of appeal.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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