Spain reviews sedition as a criminal offence

by Lorraine Williamson

MADRID – Spain will review sedition as a crime from the penal code. It is replaced by another offence with a lesser penalty. 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced this on Thursday. The government wants to use the measure to alleviate the situation in Catalonia. Here, several separatist leaders have been convicted of incitement following the illegal referendum on independence in October 2017. 

In Spain, sedition means an attempt to use force to prevent the application of laws or the exercise of legitimate authority. It carries a prison sentence of up to eight years. Or 15 years if it concerns someone who holds public office. 

From sedition to serious disturbance to public order 

In an interview with television channel La Sexta, Prime Minister Sánchez announced that his socialist party and ally Unidas Podemos will introduce a bill on Friday to replace the crime of sedition with another, less severely punished crime: serious disturbance of public order. According to the prime minister, who has been in power since 2018, the new crime is “more or less comparable to that of other European democracies such as Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland”. 

A dozen Catalan separatists were sentenced to prison terms in Spain for sedition after Catalonia tried to secede in 2017. This resulted in the worst political crisis in the country’s recent history. The Catalan leaders were later pardoned. 

Related post: Carles Puigdemont campaigns for Catalan independence in Germany 

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At the same time, the prime minister emphasised that former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and two other separatist leaders who have been on the run since 2017 continue to be persecuted in Spain. Puigdemont has lived in Belgium since 2017 and has been elected a Member of the European Parliament while continuing to fight for independence. The other two separatist leaders are Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, both MEPs. They also live in Belgium. A fourth beneficiary would be Marta Rovira, the secretary general of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which currently governs Catalonia, who lives in Switzerland. 

Prison sentence probably be reduced to half 

According to the newspaper El País, citing government sources, the plan is to reduce the prison sentence for this crime to about half the current maximum of 15 years through criminal justice reform, which requires parliamentary approval. There are also reports that the proposed reform would shorten the time between committing sedition and prescribing it. 

Divided reactions to the law change 

In Spain, reactions to the change in the law are divided. Some experts have expressed doubts about the impact a reform of the law would have on the self-exiled independence leaders. They see it more as a symbolic move. However, the right-wing opposition has repeatedly claimed that the prime minister is giving in to Catalan separatism. Some leading figures within Sánchez’s own party have also opposed a possible reform of the sedition. They are concerned that it could hurt their support among voters for unity of Spain. 

Emiliano García-Page, the socialist president of the Castilla-La Mancha region and a fierce critic of the government’s grace last year, said that “the pursuit of independence must have a criminal consequence, you can phrase it as you like, but the constitution must defend itself”. 

Related post: Separatist parties more divided than ever on the national Catalan holiday 

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