Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has pardoned nine jailed leaders of the Catalonia region’s 2017 move for independence.
Sanchez announced the pardons Tuesday in a televised address after telling a group of civil society leaders in Barcelona that his Cabinet would approve them.
“It is the best decision for Catalonia and the best decision for Spain,” Sánchez said. “We hope to open a new era of dialogue and build new bridges.”
The leaders, who are still prohibited from holding public office, should be released from prison after the pardons have been published in the government’s official journal.
Opposition parties have said they would challenge the pardons in court. Opinion polls showed a slim majority of the public opposed the pardons.
Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to jail in 2019 for sedition and other offenses, with the sentences ranging from nine to 13 years.
Leader Raul Romeva, who as the region’s foreign affairs chief was sentenced to 12 years for his involvement in Catalonia’s failed independence bid, said Tuesday that Catalonia would continue its fight for self-determination.
“By pardoning nine people, they will not hide the repression they continue exercising against hundreds of separatists. We won't give up the fight: amnesty and self-determination!,” Romeva tweeted.
The government in Madrid had banned Catalonia from holding its independence referendum, but the leaders went ahead with the vote anyway. The pro-independence side scored an overwhelming victory. The poll was boycotted by most unionists.
Sanchez said in his address Monday that for the two sides to move forward, “someone must make the first step.”
The current regional leader in Catalonia, Pere Aragones, welcomed the pardons as an initial move but said he would push for amnesty and a new, authorized independence referendum.
The pardons do not affect the status of former regional leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium shortly after the 2017 referendum and was not among those convicted.