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Explainer-What does the amnesty for Catalan separatists in Spain mean?

Published 10/11/2023, 23:59
Updated 11/11/2023, 00:00
© Reuters. Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont reacts, on the day a deal was signed with Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) for Spanish government support, which is expected to include an amnesty law for Catalan separatist activists, in Brussels, Belgiu

By Graham Keeley, Joan Faus and Belén Carreño

BARCELONA/MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's socialists have reached a deal with the Catalan separatist Junts party, which will support the government in return for a controversial amnesty for officials and activists involved in Catalonia's separatist drive.

The text of the future law has not yet been disclosed, but the agreement announced on Thursday offers some details of what it will entail and when it could come into force.


The amnesty will cover all events related to the Catalan independence drive from 2012 to present day, including a symbolic vote held in 2014 and an independence referendum in 2017, which was declared illegal by courts.

That led to nine separatist leaders being convicted and jailed for between nine and 13 years for offences ranging from sedition to misuse of public funds. They were pardoned in 2021.

The amnesty law is not expected to name specific beneficiaries to avoid being considered a mass pardon not allowed by the Spanish constitution.

The most high-profile beneficiary would be Junts' founder Carles Puigdemont, who led Catalonia in 2017 and is fighting extradition to Spain from Belgium, where he fled following the short-lived independence declaration.

He faces charges of disobedience and misuse of public funds in Spain, punishable by up to eight years in prison.


Since 2012, when Catalan independence politicians started their efforts to break away from Spain, hundreds of people have faced legal action for alleged offences varying from sedition to embezzlement and disobedience.

Catalan separatist organization Omnium has estimated up to some 1,500 of those prosecuted could be covered by the amnesty.

These may include police officers facing legal action over clashes with independence supporters during the referendum, whose potential pardon was a sticking point in negotiations.

Thursday's statement said the amnesty should include "both those responsible and citizens who ... were the subject of judicial decisions or proceedings linked to these events".

Top socialist negotiator Santos Cerdan said judges would decide who eventually benefits from the law.

Negotiations stalled in recent days as the Catalans sought to have Puigdemont's allies covered, saying they were victims of "lawfare" - charges such as corruption or money laundering, designed to neutralize disruptive politicians.

To break the stalemate, the agreement says the amnesty law could be updated following the conclusion of a parliamentary investigation into what separatists call the "dirty war" waged by Madrid against them, including phone wiretaps.


It is unclear when the law would be approved and come into force. If the socialists succeed to form a government, the amnesty law will be introduced for debate and vote in the lower house of parliament before heading to the senate, where the conservative opposition led by the People's Party (PP) has a majority.

Although the Senate does not have the final say in approving the law, the opposition is likely to slow its passage as much as possible before it returns to the lower house where it is expected to be approved.

Given the winter holiday that in Spain extends into January, the parliamentary process will unlikely be completed before February.

The law would then have to be applied case by case by judges.

© Reuters. Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont reacts, on the day a deal was signed with Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) for Spanish government support, which is expected to include an amnesty law for Catalan separatist activists, in Brussels, Belgium November 9, 2023.  REUTERS/Yves Herman

The PP has also said it will refer the law to the Constitutional Court. Its review could take two or three years but the amnesty law would be in force following its approval by parliament, said constitutional law lecturer at Spanish UNED university Lucrecio Rebollo.

That would allow Puigdemont to safely return to Spain provided the charges he faces are covered by the amnesty law, he added.

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