Spain on June 22 pardoned nine jailed Catalan separatists behind a failed 2017 independence bid as it aimed to break the deadlock over the political crisis in the wealthy northeastern region.
In announcing the decision, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he hoped the move would draw a line under past confrontations with Catalonia’s separatist-led regional government and open the way for talks.
“With this act, we want to open a new stage of dialogue and reconciliation and close once and for all the division and confrontation,” he said.
The decision to grant clemency to nine separatist leaders who were serving long prison sentences was taken in order to “re-establish coexistence and harmony within Catalan society and Spanish society as a whole”, he said.
Although the date of their release remains unclear, media reports suggested it could happen very quickly.
The separatists were convicted over a banned referendum in October 2017 that was marred by police violence and followed by a short-lived declaration of independence, sparking Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
Several fled abroad but 12 others were tried and convicted, with three-quarters of them handed prison terms of nine to 13 years.
Sanchez said they were partial pardons, that all nine would be banned from holding public office and that the pardons would be conditional on them not committing “a serious crime” for a set period of time.
“The Spanish government has taken this decision because it is the best for Catalonia and for Spain,” Sanchez said.
But the decision has been attacked by Spain’s right-wing opposition as well as by many in the pro-independence camp who want a full amnesty that would allow those who fled abroad to return home.
Analysts have also warned it was a risky political gamble that may help calm tensions but won’t solve the years-long turmoil over the separatist crisis, which has left Catalonia sharply divided.