Less than 24 hours after the King of Spain officially pardoned the Catalan leaders, the 9 convicted politicians stood outside the prison gates. Whether this gesture will lead to better relations between Catalonia and the Spanish government is far from certain.
On Tuesday afternoon, the pardons of Prime Minister Sánchez and King Felipe VI were confirmed by an entry in the Official Gazette of Spain (BOE). By noon on Wednesday afternoon, the Catalan leaders had left prison.
Nine Catalan leaders released from three prisons
Seven Catalan politicians were able to leave Lledoners prison on Wednesday afternoon, including Oriol Junqueras, the former deputy prime minister of the Catalan regional government. Carme Forcadell left the women’s prison in Barcelona in the morning. Former minister Dolors Bassa was released in Figueras.
Illegal referendum leads to years in prison
In 2019, the nine politicians were convicted of organising an illegal referendum for an independent Catalonia. This was seen as high treason by Spain. As a result, they received prison terms of between 9 and 13 years. The then Prime Minister of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, fled the country and has been living in exile in Belgium ever since.
Reconciliation attempt between Catalonia and Spain
Prime Minister Sánchez said the pardon was a reconciliation of sorts on his part, hoping to start talks with Catalonia. “We want to put an end to division and confrontation between Catalonia and Spain.”
One of the most important conditions for the pardon is the former politicians cannot hold political office. However, if they commit another serious crime or intentional offence, they must serve their prison terms.
Former politicians to stop fighting for independent Catalonia?
Whether the released Catalan former politicians will adhere to this is another question. When Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Raül Romeva, Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart left Lledoners prison this afternoon, they displayed a banner that read ‘Freedom for Catalonia’. Junqueras said, “Now we’re out of prison, nothing changes. We will continue to fight for independence.” So wrote the Spanish newspaper COPE.es on Wednesday.
It would seem Pedro Sánchez’s attempt at reconciliation with the Catalan leaders is already on rocky ground.