Spain passes bill granting amnesty to Catalan secessionists

Act of pardon draws a line under political turmoil set off by secessionist drive, but could face further legal hurdles.

Catalan politicians
Catalan politicians celebrate after the approval of a bill granting amnesty to Catalan secessionist at the Spanish parliament's lower house in Madrid [Bernat Armangue/AP Photo]

Spain’s parliament has greenlighted a bill granting amnesty to hundreds of Catalan secessionists involved in a botched breakaway bid seven years ago.

The controversial bill, passed 177-172 on Thursday, will see courts annul the legal records of hundreds of officials and activists involved in crimes related to Catalonia‘s secessionists push from 2011, paving the way for a return of the movement’s exiled leader, Carles Puigdemont.

The act of pardon draws a line under Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, which saw Catalan pro-independence leaders, who had won the 2015 regional election in Catalonia, hold a full referendum in 2017 that was declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court.

The bill, opposed by the conservative Popular Party (PP) and far-right Vox, has had a rocky ride through parliament.

Initially approved by the lower house in March, it was vetoed in the upper house, where right-wing parties hold a majority, earlier this month. But the lower house pushed it through regardless.

Even though it has now been passed, it is likely to face legal challenges.

Earlier this week, a PP spokesman said that the party would do everything to “overturn” the law, whether through appeals to the Constitutional Court or “social pressure” on the street.

The law must also be applied by courts on a case-by-case basis, with individual judges deciding whether the amnesty applies.

They have two months to raise issues with the Constitutional Court or the European justice system which could delay its implementation for some time.

‘Forgiveness’

“Forgiveness is stronger than resentment,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez after the bill was passed.

Sanchez had put forward the amnesty proposal in exchange for support in parliament from Catalan secessionist parties enabling him to stay on as prime minister after an inconclusive election last year.

The new law paves the way for the return of independence figurehead Puigdemont, leader of Together for Catalonia (JxCat), one of the parties that had backed Sanchez’s coalition government.

Puigdemont led the 2017 secession drive before fleeing the country and going into self-exile in Belgium, where he has resided ever since while evading extradition. Other pro-independence leaders are also exiled.

Spaniards are divided over the amnesty, the bill having caused large protests over the past few months.

In a survey by the El Mundo newspaper in March, 62 percent of respondents across Spain rejected the amnesty, but in the Catalonia region alone most voters – 48 percent – supported it.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies