Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez has pardoned nine leaders serving prison sentences for their roles in Catalonia’s failed secession attempt, the European nation has announced.
Catalonia is the wealthy, restive northeastern region of Spain whose capital is Barcelona.
For decades many of its citizens have clamored for independence from Spain, causing rift in the region.
The pardons, approved by the Spanish cabinet and announced at a news conference, made good on recent promises by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to reconcile with a separatist movement that in 2017 rocked Spain with an independence referendum.
Spain’s courts declared the vote illegal and the government ordered a crackdown, confiscating ballots and even sending in riot squads to beat many who tried to vote.
Officials also ordered wide-ranging arrests, including those of the nine politicians and independence activists, who were originally given sentences between nine and 13 years, on charges that included sedition and misuse of public funds. The prisoners were jailed about three and a half years ago.
In an announcement from the prime minister’s palace, Mr. Sánchez offered a conciliatory tone that signaled a shift from past confrontational stances by the government against the prisoners. He said pardoning them was in the public interest.
“It’s best for Catalonia, it’s best for Spain,” he said.
The government did not offer complete pardons to the prisoners, however, maintaining bans on holding political office for a number of them who previously had been politicians.
“It’s best for Catalonia and for Spain and it’s in accord with the Spanish Constitution,” Sanchez said in a nationally-televised statement. “The government will work for understanding and not for confrontation.”
Among those receiving pardons were Oriol Junqueras, the former deputy leader of Catalonia; Raül Romeva, who had been in charge of foreign affairs for the former Catalan government; Jordi Sànchez, who headed a pro-independence group; and Jordi Cuixart, the president of Omnium Cultural, a Barcelona-based cultural organization.
Separatist leaders who fled the country to avoid prosecution, including former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, did not receive clemency and Spain still considers them fugitives.
Puigdemont has lived for more than three years in Belgium, which has declined to extradite him, and he won election in 2019 to one of Spain’s seats in the European Parliament.