April 24, 2024

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Spanish parliamentarians support an amnesty law for Catalan separatists

Spanish parliamentarians support an amnesty law for Catalan separatists
  • Written by Jay Hedgeco
  • BBC News, Madrid

Image source, Eduardo Parra/European Press

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Catalan MPs celebrated outside the Spanish Chamber of Deputies after MPs supported an amnesty law

Spain's Congress has approved a controversial amnesty law that seeks to benefit nationalists facing legal action over separatist activity in the northeastern Catalonia region.

The law, a revised version of a draft law that was rejected in January, received 178 votes in the 350-seat chamber.

The amnesty aims to remove pending legal proceedings against people accused of separatist activity, which mainly stem from Catalonia's attempt to secede in 2017.

Now he must have the support of the Senate.

Socialist Party spokesman Patxi Lopez said the amnesty helped “end a period of conflict and open a period of reconciliation and unity.”

The most prominent potential beneficiary of the law is former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont, who led the failed independence bid and has lived in Belgium since then, to avoid the reach of the Spanish courts.

Puigdemont is being investigated for terrorism-related offenses for his alleged role in protests in 2019.

However, his Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party voted against the amnesty in January, arguing that it failed to provide safeguards to protect him and many others from prosecution on terrorism charges.

The amended version of the bill stipulates that only crimes deemed terrorist by the European Union, and not Spanish law, will not be protected under the amnesty.

Parliamentary support from Puigdemont's JxCat party and its fellow pro-secessionist Catalan Republican Left has been crucial in allowing Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to govern since he took office in November.

Three years ago, Sánchez's socialist government granted amnesty to nine Catalan separatists who had been sentenced to long prison terms for their role in the 2017 independence declaration after courts declared the referendum illegal. Hundreds of people may benefit from the amnesty.

While Sánchez has insisted that the initiative aims to improve the social and political climate in Catalonia, his critics say it is unconstitutional and only aims to maintain support for nationalists.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, Madrid region president of the opposition conservative People's Party, called the law “the most corrupt law in our democracy.” People's Party leader Alberto Nunez Viejo said the prime minister had “now achieved everything” the separatists asked for, with the sole aim of remaining in office “for a period of time.”

Mr Puigdemont was thrust into the spotlight further after Catalan President Pere Aragones on Wednesday called early elections for May 12, because the parties were unable to agree on the region's annual budget.

JxCat Secretary General Jordi Turol appears to indicate that Mr. Puigdemont will be the party's candidate for regional president.

“The person we are all thinking about will be in Catalonia on the day of the possible inauguration debate,” he said.

The timeframe for passing the amnesty bill means it could be implemented shortly after the election.

The legislation will now go to the Senate, which, although controlled by the conservative People's Party, can only slow its progress until mid-May, when it returns to Congress for final approval.

The prospect that Mr Puigdemont, a member of the European Parliament, will be free of legal charges and run for office in Spain again could provide a major boost to his JxCat party as it seeks to reassert itself as the dominant political force in Catalonia.

He said that the amnesty did not put an end to the story, but it overcame “a wrong phase of judicial and political suppression of a political movement.”

The Spanish Prime Minister praised the vote as opening “a new period of coexistence and prosperity in Catalonia,” but the Catalan president said it represented “a new stage towards achieving freedom for Catalonia.”

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