June 22 (UPI) — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez‘s Cabinet on Tuesday approved pardons for nine separatists who have been jailed for years for attempting to seek independence for Catalonia.
Sanchez said he pursued the pardons as a way of attempting to heal a rift between Spain and those in autonomous Catalonia who wanted to fully secede in 2017.
The pardons commuted their sentences and barred all nine from holding public office in the future.
The nine separatists were charged with sedition for their role in setting up Catalonia’s independence referendum four years ago. They had served 3 and a half years in prison and could be freed as soon as Wednesday.
The Spanish government said the 2017 independence referendum broke national laws.
“They were not punished for their ideas, but rather for their acts against democratic legality,” Sanchez said, according to El Pais. “We live together and together we must deal with the same concerns and the same problems. We will find difficulties along the way, but I believe that this is well worth trying.”
Sanchez said on Monday that he would recommend pardons for all nine separatists. He is facing some pushback for the move.
Former Catalan Regional President Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to escape prosecution, accused Sanchez of “showboating” and said the pardons “fooled no one,” according to The Guardian.
Sanchez’s opponents argue that he caved in to the Catalan Republican Left Party and noted that none of the nine separatists have expressed remorse for their efforts to secede.
“Sanchez has used a clemency measure to launch a coup against legality, perverting the use of a pardon to grant it, for the first time, to those who have not asked for it, who are not sorry, and who have also threatened to re-offend,” Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative People’s Party, said, according to The Guardian.
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